All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Valley Of Lost Stories by Vanessa McCausland

The Valley Of Lost Stories 
Vanessa McCausland
Harper Collins AUS
2020, 406p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Beautiful, beguiling and treacherous … Big Little Lies meets Picnic at Hanging Rock in a secluded valley over the Blue Mountains.

Four women and their children are invited to the beautiful but remote Capertee Valley for a much-needed holiday.

Once home to a burgeoning mining industry, now all that remains are ruins slowly being swallowed by the bush and the jewel of the valley, a stunning, renovated Art Deco hotel. This is a place haunted by secrets. In 1948 Clara Black walked into the night, never to be seen again.

As the valley beguiles these four friends, and haunts them in equal measure, each has to confront secrets of her own: Nathalie with a damaged marriage; Emmie yearning for another child; Pen struggling as a single parent; and Alexandra hiding in the shadow of her famous husband.

But as the mystery of what happened seventy years earlier unravels, one of the women also vanishes into this bewitching but wild place, forcing devastating truths to the surface.

Recently this book arrived in a cute little package, wrapped up like a present with a card that said after 2020, it’d be nice to have a bookish escape. To be honest, after reading a lot through my lockdowns (which totalled, I think, almost 20 weeks) I haven’t read much at all in December. But I feel like my reading mojo might be slowly returning and I picked this book up just intending to read a few chapters and see how I went but I ended up reading about three quarters of it and then finished it the next day.

The book focuses around four women: Emmie, Nathalie, Alexandra and Pen, who all have children at the same school. At an event, Emmie finds herself sitting with the beautiful, well known Nathalie and her friend Alexandra, two of the mothers that everyone is in awe of and probably wants to be friends with. They make a pact to take each other if they win the raffle prize of a week at another mother’s beach house and Emmie is surprisingly the winner. She also includes her friend Pen, a single mother who struggles with her youngest child Will. When the beach house falls through, Alexandra knows someone who offers them a place where they can still take their holiday, with enough room for the women and their kids: a hotel in a remote part of NSW past the Blue Mountains. At first it seems idyllic – beautiful, empty with grounds for the children to play and a pool and stream to swim in during the sweltering summer heat. But then things take a bit of a sinister turn and the Valley is more eerie, than beautiful. And there’s definitely more to their mysterious host than meets the eye.

I really enjoyed this. It’s a dual timeline, the book also takes us back to 1948, when the area was used for shale mining. There’s a great divide in the local community – those in charge of the mine, the engineers and the like, reside in the grand hotel with balls and parties and luxuries. The workers are often relegated to fibre shacks and there’s never enough money to go around. One night, Clara Black vanishes and Jean was the last person to see her alive. In the present day, it seems that there are many secrets from that time to still be discovered.

Each of the women have children the same age and all except Emmie have more than one child. Pen has a teenage daughter, who also struggles with the fact that Will is different and that Pen cannot provide the luxuries her friend’s parents can. Alexandra has two boys and is married to a television personality and from the outside, her life looks idyllic. Nathalie has three children including two under five and she is sinking. A lot of the women are struggling with many issues: parental guilt, feeling inadequate, a bit too much reliance on wine to get through the day, sexuality, secondary infertility, inadequacy. In one of the first scenes, Emmie is at the school, wondering how she has been doing drop offs and pick ups for four years and still hasn’t found her “group”, women to stand with and chat to, to share secrets with. She meets Nathalie by accident really and falls into accidental friendship created by the pact to share the prize should any of them win it. They are not long term friends when they go on the holiday (with the exception of Nathalie and Alexandra). All of the women are relatable in some way or another, whether it’s the struggle of adding another child, the feeling of not being the mother you should be, marital struggles, money issues, there was a lot of realism in some of their interactions, thoughts and actions. I felt interested by Pen’s story in particular and her blunt thoughts about her son were interesting to me. Will was a challenge, a surprise, one that turned her life upside down and there’s always a lot of pressure on women in particular, to have this magical, immediate love for a child the second you find out you’re carrying it or if not then, definitely the second you’ve delivered it. For a lot of women, it doesn’t go that way and there can be a real fear to talk about it because of this “motherhood bond” that is so revered. One of the women is also really, really struggling with an alcohol problem which it seems everyone is ready to ignore – is it because some of them don’t know her very well? Or is drinking so ingrained in the culture that it takes a while for people to notice that she has a very big problem. Even her own husband doesn’t notice. And I think sometimes, the “Mummy wine time” is quite glamorised on social media, places like instagram. For some, that one glass turns into two….turns into a bottle….turns into every night…..turns into mid afternoon…..

I enjoyed the historical mystery aspect of the story as well as the atmosphere of the hotel and the valley itself. It takes up much less page space than the present day story but still feels well researched, constructed and portrayed with some acknowledgement of the history in the area where this book is set. The book went in several different directions that I did not expect and I thought the twists and turns were deftly written. The ending wasn’t neat either, which reflects life and the way that people’s relationships work.

8/10

Book #240 of 2020

The Valley Of Lost Stories is book #87 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

2 Comments »

Review: The Godmothers by Monica McInerney

The Godmothers
Monica McInerney
Penguin Random House AUS
2020, 448p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

‘I don’t want two wishy-washy godmothers,’ Jeannie had said that afternoon in the country hospital when Eliza was only a day old. ‘No dolls. No pink dresses. Just lots of adventures. Lots of spoiling. The pair of you like two mighty warriors protecting her at every step.’

Eliza Miller grew up in Australia as the only daughter of a troubled young mother, but with the constant support of two watchful godmothers, Olivia and Maxie. Despite her tricky childhood, she always felt loved and secure. Until, just before her eighteenth birthday, a tragic event changed her life.

Thirteen years on, Eliza is deliberately living as safely as possible, avoiding close relationships and devoting herself to her job. Out of the blue, an enticing invitation from one of her godmothers prompts a leap into the unknown.

Within a fortnight, Eliza finds herself in the middle of a complicated family in Edinburgh. There’s no such thing as an ordinary day any more. Yet, amidst the chaos, Eliza begins to blossom. She finds herself not only hopeful about the future, but ready to explore her past, including the biggest mystery of all – who is her father?

Set in Australia, Scotland, Ireland and England, THE GODMOTHERS is a great big hug of a book that will fill your heart to bursting. It is a moving and perceptive story about love, lies, hope and sorrow, about the families we are born into and the families we make for ourselves. 

I’ve been reading Monica McInerney for a very long time. I think my Nan has been buying her books since the late 90s or early 2000s. I haven’t read all her books but I have read quite a few and I think I’ve really enjoyed most of them. A new book by her is always something to look forward to. This was the December choice for my online book club and it’s a bit unfortunate to say that I personally, did not love it.

I think Monica McInerney does an amazing job writing complex and flawed families, ones that you find believable and ones that in some ways, remind you of bits and pieces of your own family. This book is another indication of that. Eliza grew up the only child of a single mother, never knowing even who her father is. Her mother was volatile – prone to fancies and stories and moving around frequently. For Eliza though, no one could’ve loved her more or provided a better upbringing. It was them two against the world, although Eliza did also have the benefit of her two godmothers Olivia and Maxie, her mother’s best friends from the Catholic boarding school they all attended. When Jeannie, Eliza’s mother goes through one of her phases, Olivia and Maxie make a pact to give her a break each year, alternating with each other taking Eliza on a holiday. This works well until tragedy strikes when Eliza is 17 and her life is shattered.

When Eliza is 30, she finds herself without a job and without an apartment and so she heads to Edinburgh for the wedding of one of her godmothers and decides to go on a quest to find the father she has never known. I don’t know what it’s like to have such important part of your life missing – to not know who a parent is, to not even have a name, is definitely something that would really make a mark on a person. And Jeannie promised to tell Eliza everything when she turned 18, however that was never able to happen. Olivia and Maxie don’t even know, Jeannie didn’t even confide in them.

Parts of this book I enjoyed, I didn’t mind Eliza’s quest to discover things about herself but a lot of the plot just felt like it meant nothing and went nowhere. Characters are introduced and take up relatively large parts of the page only for it to fizzle out towards the end and not really bring any meaning to the story. There were several characters that I thought would have a marked impact on Eliza, but to be honest it never really panned out that way. Some felt remarkably bland (Laurence) and some are incredibly over the top (Celine) for little in the way of relevance.

I think my biggest issue was that I felt like Eliza had been frustratingly let down by almost, if not everyone, in her life but this was something that never really changed. Her mother Jeannie was obviously mentally unwell. She also resorted to a lot of heavy drinking, even though it was obviously something that made Eliza very uncomfortable. She needed a lot of help but was reluctant to get it. She told Eliza a lot of lies about her life and this could’ve been a part of her mental illness processing the things that had happened to her but it was actually quite damaging to Eliza and it made it very difficult to sort the truth – I’m honestly not sure if Jeannie was lying about the theft she talked about or not. Even her godmothers, who were adults with a better grasp of what they were seeing in Jeannie’s behaviour were never honest with her about the extent of her mother’s issues, even well into Eliza’s adulthood. I think a lot of Jeannie’s teenage years as being somewhat “wild” meant that some of her behaviour was overlooked, as she was a free spirit or something. Eliza had her mother on a pedestal, refusing to see that she was actually quite a damaged and damaging woman. She may have loved Eliza fiercely but she definitely did not always do the best thing for her or by her and she kept secrets, hid things and misdirected constantly. It felt to me like Eliza needed a lot of therapy. She does mention going to see a therapist at one point but I think it’s phrased in a way that suggests she hasn’t been there in a while.

Also I’m not really sure about the end. I didn’t like it, the way it was structured and although it posed an interesting moral dilemma, it further cemented the issue I had above.

6/10

Book #239 of 2020

The Godmothers is book #86 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020

Leave a comment »

Review: The Kingdom Of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty

The Kingdom Of Copper (The Daevabad Trilogy #2)
S.A. Chakraborty
Harper Voyager
2019, 625p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Nahri’s life changed forever the moment she accidentally summoned Dara, a formidable, mysterious djinn, during one of her schemes. Whisked from her home in Cairo, she was thrust into the dazzling royal court of Daevabad and quickly discovered she would need all her grifter instincts to survive there.

Now, with Daevabad entrenched in the dark aftermath of the battle that saw Dara slain at Prince Ali’s hand, Nahri must forge a new path for herself, without the protection of the guardian who stole her heart or the counsel of the prince she considered a friend. But even as she embraces her heritage and the power it holds, she knows she’s been trapped in a gilded cage, watched by a king who rules from the throne that once belonged to her family and one misstep will doom her tribe.

Meanwhile, Ali has been exiled for daring to defy his father. Hunted by assassins, adrift on the unforgiving copper sands of his ancestral land, he is forced to rely on the frightening abilities the marid, the unpredictable water spirits, have gifted him. But in doing so, he threatens to unearth a terrible secret his family has long kept buried.

And as a new century approaches and the djinn gather within Daevabad’s towering brass walls for celebrations, a threat brews unseen in the desolate north. It’s a force that would bring a storm of fire straight to the city’s gates . . . and one that seeks the aid of a warrior trapped between worlds, torn between a violent duty he can never escape and a peace he fears he will never deserve.

I haven’t really been reading much lately – before I finished this I’d read just four books in December (one was an audiobook that took me 10 days to listen to). I’m not sure if it’s just the end of year burnout, with things that need to be done revolving around Christmas, or if it’s just the fact I can leave my house and do other things now, reading isn’t my only option for entertainment anymore! But I’ve been wanting to read more but when it comes time to do it, I just can’t be bothered picking anything up. I decided to try this book because I bought it straight after finishing the first one and I did want to read it before I forgot everything that happened in City Of Brass.

It picks up briefly just after the end of the first book and then skips forward about five years in time. Nahri has been married to Muntadhir for about four years and Ali escaped from those accompanying him after his banishment when there was an attempt made on his life. He’s managed to find his way to a community who embrace him for his new…skills, acquired after the events toward the end of the previous book. However there’s about to be a big celebration in Daevabad and Ali finds himself manipulated back into that location for the celebration. Although Nahri is understandably hostile at first after what Ali did, they bond over a shared desire to rebuild the hospital Nahri’s ancestors once worked in. Nahri even has a grand idea for the hospital to treat both djinn and shafit, healers of both types working on their own kinds and learning from each other. She is hoping it might bring a sort of peace to the area but there are still violent uprisings and events which make this incredibly difficult.

This felt like a really dark book. Like where the Empire Strikes Back in Star Wars type of thing, which isn’t uncommon in the middle instalment in a trilogy. There’s a lot of violence, bloodshed, plotting to overthrow the King, Nahri being shot down in different ways about her ideas. She agreed to the marriage with Muntadhir even though the two of them don’t really know each other and Muntadhir is a prince fuckboy whose affections mostly lie in another area but all of that doesn’t bother Nahri. She knew she was going to have to marry him anyway and so she negotiated best she could. The two of them sort of rub along together okay, they don’t really interact that much unless they really have to. The arrival of Ali back into the palace complicates things enormously as Muntadhir resents his brother right now, for lots of different reasons. And I think Ali is deeply envious of Muntadhir, who has many things that Ali desire and is grateful for approximately none of them.

This is told by three different narrators: Ali, Nahri and one other. For some of the book they are all in separate locations but then Nahri and Ali come together when he returns to Daevabad and slowly the friendship they once had is forged anew, albeit in a different fashion. The past cannot be ignored but with time and knowledge and trust, it can be moved on from. Then, right at the end, the third narrator joins them in the same location in the most shocking of ways and Nahri is forced to make a terrible choice. This book ends on a really interesting note, right after she makes that choice and betrays two people for the sake of, well, everyone. In doing so, she’s made herself a powerful enemy and also potentially ruined the closest thing to a friendship she had left. If definitely made me want the third book as soon as possible.

This is a long book, no denying it and there were times when it did feel a bit…..unnecessarily long. My attention wandered a couple times in the middle, a lot of people arguing with each other rehashing the same arguments they’ve already had a lot of times: Ali’s fanaticism and his defying of his father, Muntadhir’s wastrel tendencies, Ghessan’s tyranny, Nahri’s idealism. Hopefully this won’t be as much of an issue in book 3, given the way things ended in this one!

8/10

Book #238 of 2020

1 Comment »

Review: Ink And Bone by Rachel Caine

Ink And Bone (The Great Library #1)
Rachel Caine
Allison & Busby
2015, 410p
Read via my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Knowledge is power. Power corrupts.

In a world where the ancient Great Library of Alexandria was never destroyed, knowledge now rules the world: freely available, but strictly controlled. Owning private books is a crime.

Jess Brightwell is the son of a black market book smuggler, sent to the Library to compete for a position as a scholar . . . but even as he forms friendships and finds his true gifts, he begins to unearth the dark secrets of the greatest, most revered institution in the world.

Those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn. . . .

Recently I was very sad to hear of the death of Rachel Caine, from cancer. I have read quite a few of her books – the entire Morganville Vampires series, the Revivalist series and probably a few others here and there. It reminded me of how much I still had to read of her backlist. On one of my TBR bookcases, I have about half of the Weather Warden series. I’ve read the first book probably 10 years ago now but have never gotten around to finishing the series. And despite how much I’ve really thought this series would interest me over the years, I hadn’t even managed to start it. So I figured I would give this one a go as it is one I’ve always wanted to read.

It’s an alternative timeline series, where the Great Library of Alexandria still exists. It also controls knowledge – all the books are stored in libraries and dealing in books has become rare and contraband with the threat of death hanging over anyone who dares. Still, when anything is banned there are people who will pay handsomely for it and there are people like Jess’ father who will provide. He ropes his sons in from a very early age – already to the detriment of his eldest. Jess knows if he gets caught, he will not be rescued, he will not be acknowledged and he should spill no information.

Jess’ father summons him when he’s 16 and announces that he’s paid for Jess to take the exam to enter the Great Library under a sort of…apprenticeship? Jess still must take and pass a test, which he does and then he finds himself on the train to Alexandria, meeting his fellow students, some of which will be brutally sent home. From however many there are that begin, only 6 will be chosen. Their instruction is undertaken by Scholar Wolfe, who doesn’t seem to relish the task he has been chosen (?) for.

The world building is really interesting. In some ways the society is very advanced, in others it appears not so much. England and Wales are basically at war, there are dissenters around that want to bring down the Great Library and dismantle its power. I found the beginning of the book a bit slow but once Jess made it to Alexandria to begin his studies, it definitely picked up and became much more interesting. I really liked the group of students (there are many but about a half dozen of them or a few more become a main part of the story as Jess gets to know them, be it in a combative or friendly type of way) and I loved how the character of Scholar Wolfe developed. At first he is so dismissive of them, barely tolerating them, terrifying the life out of them. He seems like a bit of an asshole but sprinkled throughout the story (at the beginning of chapters, I think) are excerpts from communications and some of those flesh out his backstory a bit. As we get further into the story, more about him is revealed and his struggle at being chosen to be their mentor is given more light and the why becomes quite sinister.

This book went in some really exciting directions and the cast of characters is both interesting and diverse. There’s so much bubbling below the surface – Jess was only just starting to uncover some really strange and suspicious things towards the end of the book and things are not as they seem at all. I definitely want to know more about the Obscurists. This book is deliberately vague about it as Jess didn’t really know anyone who can or is willing to give him that information, but now he does, so I expect that to play a great role in books to come, especially as he seeks to free the one he loves.

I enjoyed this, despite the fact that I did find it a bit slow in the first 100-150p or so. The rest was a good read and I’ve already requested the second book from my local library.

7/10

Book #237 of 2020

 

4 Comments »

Review: Get A Life, Chloe Brown (Audiobook) by Talia Hibbert

Get A Life, Chloe Brown (Brown Sisters #1)
Talia Hibbert
Harper Audio
2019, 10 hours, 17 minutes
Personal purchased copy via Audible

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Chloe Brown is a chronically ill computer geek with a goal, a plan, and a list. After almost — but not quite — dying, she’s come up with seven directives to help her “Get a Life”, and she’s already completed the first: finally moving out of her glamorous family’s mansion. The next items?

• Enjoy a drunken night out.
• Ride a motorcycle.
• Go camping.
• Have meaningless but thoroughly enjoyable sex.
• Travel the world with nothing but hand luggage.
• And… do something bad.

But it’s not easy being bad, even when you’ve written step-by-step guidelines on how to do it correctly. What Chloe needs is a teacher, and she knows just the man for the job.

Redford ‘Red’ Morgan is a handyman with tattoos, a motorcycle, and more sex appeal than ten-thousand Hollywood heartthrobs. He’s also an artist who paints at night and hides his work in the light of day, which Chloe knows because she spies on him occasionally. Just the teeniest, tiniest bit.

But when she enlists Red in her mission to rebel, she learns things about him that no spy session could teach her. Like why he clearly resents Chloe’s wealthy background. And why he never shows his art to anyone. And what really lies beneath his rough exterior…

A few months ago, I bought 3 audiobooks from audible when I had a credit or 2 about to expire. I picked up Beach Read (which I loved), The Tourist Attraction (which I did not) and this book, first in a trilogy about three sisters. I’ve heard some really good things about this book and I’m happy to say that I enjoyed it immensely.

Chloe Brown is chronically ill with fibromyalgia. There are days that are a huge struggle for her and she’s been quite sheltered for the past few years. When she’s almost hit by a car and sees her life flash before her eyes, she decides to make some changes. Firstly she moves out of her family’s quite luxurious mansion, into an apartment. Then she makes a list of things she needs to do to ‘get her life’ back as it’s slowly been slipping away. Her illness has meant that most of her friends have faded from her life. Her family is well-meaning but often smothering and her life is dominated by her illness. She wants to change that and so she carves out the list of things to do to push her out of her comfort zone.

The superintendent of her new flat building is Redford Morgan, an artist floundering after his personal life imploded. He’s been given the job as super by a friend, sort of as a favour to find his feet but Red is good at it, popular with the tenants – except, at first, Chloe Brown. Chloe’s obvious wealth grates on Red, reminds him of someone else that used to be in his life but he soon realises that Chloe is very different from that person. Although they do clash at first, they settle into an exchange – Chloe will build Red a website for him to sell his art, which he wants to get back into doing and he’ll help her with her list. Because it seems that if anyone knows how to live a little dangerously, it’s Redford Morgan.

I really enjoyed a lot of the banter between Chloe and Red and the chemistry between them is off the charts. There’s good representation here as well – Chloe is a woman of colour (Jamaican background) who is also chronically ill with an invisible illness that people do not often believe is real. Red is a big, handsome, muscly ginger (a ginger romance hero! They are few and far between) who seems like a badass, with the muscles and the tattoos and the motorbike and the accent from the less posh end of town but really he’s a soft cinnamon roll. We get his thoughts and feelings too (dude has a massive hard on for pretty much everything about Chloe) and the contrast between their ways of speaking came across really well in the audio version. Chloe has this upper-crust type voice that could cut glass. I enjoyed the fact that the book explored Red’s pain at the failure of his previous relationship and what that had done to his self-esteem and image and how it also occasionally reared its head to colour his moments with Chloe. Red had a lot of emotional baggage but throughout the novel he realises that he wants to make something work with Chloe so he takes the steps to start healing himself, to be better so that he doesn’t fall back into assuming Chloe is like the person who hurt him. Sometimes he fails, because he’s human and makes mistakes – Chloe does too. She’s got baggage as well from the people she thought cared about her (friends, former partner) leaving after her illness meant that she wasn’t the same “fun” Chloe anymore. They didn’t understand, nor did they want to. Red does, he is always thinking of how he might make experiences comfortable for Chloe and he’s understanding when a bad day means she cannot do something.

I would’ve devoured this in print form but it did take me about 10ish days to listen to. Once or twice I fell asleep listening and had to skip back a bit and try and find the last bit I remembered, so I think there were probably a few chapters I missed parts of. I actually have this reserved through my local library and I’m going to read it when it comes in, even though I’ve already finished listening to it. And I am very keen to move onto the next book – we meet both of Chloe’s sisters in this one and it sounds like I’m going to (hopefully) enjoy them both.

8/10

Book #236 of 2020

2 Comments »

Review: From Blood And Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout

From Blood And Ash (Blood And Ash #1)
Jennifer L. Armentrout
Blue Box Press
2020, 634p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A Maiden…

Chosen from birth to usher in a new era, Poppy’s life has never been her own. The life of the Maiden is solitary. Never to be touched. Never to be looked upon. Never to be spoken to. Never to experience pleasure. Waiting for the day of her Ascension, she would rather be with the guards, fighting back the evil that took her family, than preparing to be found worthy by the gods. But the choice has never been hers.

A Duty…

The entire kingdom’s future rests on Poppy’s shoulders, something she’s not even quite sure she wants for herself. Because a Maiden has a heart. And a soul. And longing. And when Hawke, a golden-eyed guard honor bound to ensure her Ascension, enters her life, destiny and duty become tangled with desire and need. He incites her anger, makes her question everything she believes in, and tempts her with the forbidden.

A Kingdom…

Forsaken by the gods and feared by mortals, a fallen kingdom is rising once more, determined to take back what they believe is theirs through violence and vengeance. And as the shadow of those cursed draws closer, the line between what is forbidden and what is right becomes blurred. Poppy is not only on the verge of losing her heart and being found unworthy by the gods, but also her life when every blood-soaked thread that holds her world together begins to unravel.

Okay. I didn’t hate this….but I didn’t love it either.

It’s been blowing up on the socials lately. Everywhere I go, people were talking about it, about the romance, it was being suggested for me on various sites and it was recently announced as the Goodreads Choice Awards Winner for Best Romance. It seemed to fit the bill for the sort of read I am looking for at the moment and so I bought the first book on my kindle. I read half of it about a week ago – it’s very slow in the beginning. Slow as molasses and at about 50% I put it aside as I had a bit of a headache. Only picked it up yesterday to finish it and look, it’s better in the second half. There’s a lot of action, some (sort of) answers and some reveals that are probably supposed to be pretty shocking but I kind of already knew them so it was less so. But I had Some Issues.

The world building is annoyingly vague and at first I thought that was maybe because Poppy didn’t actually know enough about the world because she’s some sort of special snowflake known as The Maiden, chosen by the Gods. She has to be veiled, she has to remain pure, she’s basically not even allowed talk to people, even ladies in waiting. During a desire for experience, to make a choice instead of her entire future being mapped out for her, Poppy visits some sort of…brothel/gaming den? I don’t even know really and meets a man known as Hawke, one of the Royal Guard. Or some sort of Guard. Anyway he ends up on her personal guard after one of hers is murdered in front of her and even though she’s the Maiden, Poppy finds herself all sorts of tempted by Hawke. Which is good at first….but then goes tits up when she realises that Hawke is 100% not what he claimed to be and is everything she’s been taught to hate and fear. Oops.

So far, nothing groundbreaking or even terribly new. I didn’t mind Poppy and I enjoyed that she’d been taught to defend herself, although it was forbidden. There’s a scene where Poppy pretty much goes postal on someone who has long deserved it and it’s pretty awesome. She’s also subject to some pretty horrendous treatment from some sort of Duke, who seems to be the head honcho in her particular area, until the Queen recalls Poppy to the vague “Capital” for her “Ascension” into some sort of higher being. Like I said, it’s vague. I’m barely sure why she was where she was. There’s some mysterious stuff in her background, some of which sounds interesting but isn’t elaborated on here. A lot of it is about Poppy’s internal struggle with being the Maiden and how much she doesn’t really want it, and also the feelings she has for Hawke.

Which brings me to Hawke. I wasn’t really a fan. He’s cut from the cloth of fantasy romance heroes that I don’t really like that much: smirking, arrogant, stupid nicknames (in this case, Princess), the whole ‘I know you want me soooo bad’ vibe that gets on my nerves. There are things about him that are interesting and every now and then he drops that annoying personality and seems different: when he talked about his brother, etc. Towards the end he was more interesting too, when he was more a villain but with shades of a conflicted one sometimes…but then the smirking and dimples and ‘I’m so hot, you can’t help but want me even though I just murdered many people in front of you’ attitude. I really did not like that form of him and Poppy’s stupidity around him was irritating. Also he’s one of the few people who knew Poppy felt about having no agency and during the last portion of the book, he renders her completely helpless, subject to his every command and I feel he even uses something to manipulate her into having sex with him when she probably wouldn’t normally. If this is supposed to be “romance”, a lot of it felt forced and rushed. There was actually very little about it that felt romantic, especially at the end. The thing is though, he has a story I do want to know more about and when he does drop that smugness, I sort of want to know more. Because he’s conflicted too – I think Poppy was a means to an end but then things got very complicated. Towards the end I actually found Kieran more interesting. To be honest, that happens a lot to me in these sorts of books.

Despite not loving this (primarily the lack of coherent and cohesive world building and the “romance”), there was enough in here that I think I still want to read the second book to find out what happens next. They’re relatively cheap (I think like $6? $7?) for me so it won’t be too much of an investment. I’m curious about the revelations Hawke made at the end of the book and how they will shape Poppy’s future from here. I want to see if she finds her feet in this new reality and learns to battle Hawke properly.

If ever there’s a book that should be stamped with “For fans of S.J. Maas” – it’s probably this one.

7/10

Book #235 of 2020

2 Comments »

Review: How The King Of Elfhame Learned To Hate Stories by Holly Black

How The King Of Elfhame Learned To Hate Stories (The Folk Of The Air #3.5)
Holly Black
Hot Key Books
2020, 170p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

An irresistible return to the captivating world of Elfhame.

Once upon a time, there was a boy with a wicked tongue.

Before he was a cruel prince or a wicked king, he was a faerie child with a heart of stone . #1 New York Times bestselling author, Holly Black reveals a deeper look into the dramatic life of Elfhame’s enigmatic high king, Cardan. This tale includes delicious details of life before The Cruel Prince, an adventure beyond The Queen of Nothing, and familiar moments from The Folk of the Air trilogy, told wholly from Cardan’s perspective.

This new installment in the Folk of the Air series is a return to the heart-racing romance, danger, humor, and drama that enchanted readers everywhere. Each chapter is paired with lavish and luminous full-color art, making this the perfect collector’s item to be enjoyed by both new audiences and old.

I’m not sure if 2020 has finally caught up with me or if the relative freedom and return to normal life has had more of an impact on me than I thought, but I haven’t been reading lately. In fact, I have read just this book (and half of another one) in almost two weeks. Which is pretty much unheard of for me – even when I’m not reading I generally still manage 2 or so books a week. To have finished only 1 in what will be two weeks tomorrow, is a slump for sure. And I only read this because it was super short and had lots of pretty pictures and because it contained Cardan and Jude.

I really loved The Folk of the Air trilogy and Cardan and Jude in all their toxic and fucked up glory. A character like Cardan isn’t unusual, to be honest but I found Jude pretty refreshing. She has a lot of flaws and she’s manipulative, violent and scheming. I loved her. Her quest for power, to be if not as good as the Fae, then “so much worse” was a trip to go on. And I liked that somehow they found something out of it, even after their rocky start. This was a chance to get a glimpse at how it is going vs how it started and also, there’s some background on Cardan as well. Despite their difficulties (Cardan never really learning how to interact with people in a positive way, Jude’s feelings of inferiority as a human raised in a fae world (and training to overcome that) by the very fae whom she saw viciously slaughter her parents, but who also played a fatherly role for her, which gave her all sorts of confusing feelings) and their rocky start, it does feel like the two of them have managed to settle into ruling and find a way to be.

It is beautifully illustrated and I really enjoyed the way it was told. It begins with Cardan and Jude travelling to the mortal world and then goes back and tells a string of stories from when Cardan was younger before returning to the reason they’re in the mortal world to begin with. Each story rolls smoothly into the next. It’s quite short, especially as some pages are full page illustrations and others are the title or pithy “about” sentence of the next story but it was perfect for getting me just to read something. To pick something up that I knew I would enjoy but that would not really demand a lot of my mental energy right now. It also sparked an interest in re-reading the trilogy – I don’t re-read much these days but given that it’s almost the end of the year and I’m not really committed to much, I think I’ll pull all 3 books out and read them all together, which I’ve not done before. I read each one as it came out and you always forget a few of the finer details.

This is a must for fans of the series, especially if Cardan is your thing.

8/10

Book #234 of 2020

Leave a comment »

Thoughts On: A Promised Land by Barack Obama

A Promised Land
Barack Obama
Viking
2020, 751p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A riveting, deeply personal account of history in the making-from the president who inspired us to believe in the power of democracy.

In the stirring, highly anticipated first volume of his presidential memoirs, Barack Obama tells the story of his improbable odyssey from young man searching for his identity to leader of the free world, describing in strikingly personal detail both his political education and the landmark moments of the first term of his historic presidency-a time of dramatic transformation and turmoil.

Obama takes readers on a compelling journey from his earliest political aspirations to the pivotal Iowa caucus victory that demonstrated the power of grassroots activism to the watershed night of November 4, 2008, when he was elected 44th president of the United States, becoming the first African American to hold the nation’s highest office.

Reflecting on the presidency, he offers a unique and thoughtful exploration of both the awesome reach and the limits of presidential power, as well as singular insights into the dynamics of U.S. partisan politics and international diplomacy. Obama brings readers inside the Oval Office and the White House Situation Room, and to Moscow, Cairo, Beijing, and points beyond. We are privy to his thoughts as he assembles his cabinet, wrestles with a global financial crisis, takes the measure of Vladimir Putin, overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds to secure passage of the Affordable Care Act, clashes with generals about U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, tackles Wall Street reform, responds to the devastating Deepwater Horizon blowout, and authorizes Operation Neptune’s Spear, which leads to the death of Osama bin Laden.

A Promised Land is extraordinarily intimate and introspective-the story of one man’s bet with history, the faith of a community organizer tested on the world stage. Obama is candid about the balancing act of running for office as a Black American, bearing the expectations of a generation buoyed by messages of “hope and change,” and meeting the moral challenges of high-stakes decision-making. He is frank about the forces that opposed him at home and abroad, open about how living in the White House affected his wife and daughters, and unafraid to reveal self-doubt and disappointment. Yet he never wavers from his belief that inside the great, ongoing American experiment, progress is always possible.

This beautifully written and powerful book captures Barack Obama’s conviction that democracy is not a gift from on high but something founded on empathy and common understanding and built together, day by day. 

Where to begin?!

This is a monster of a book and it only covers Obama getting the Democratic nomination for president, the election and then most of his first term. Obama will tell you himself (early on and then often) that he’s very verbose: people ask him a question and he gives them a half hour dissertation in response. His book is somewhat similar, he talks about things at length and in detail. I’m Australian, so my intricate knowledge of American policy is well, teeny tiny. And there’s still quite a bit of this that went over my head, like how mortgages worked in 2009 (why were people buying with no money down?) and the banking crisis etc but this book does a pretty good job in explaining Obama’s decisions, why he made them, the fallout of them, how he could’ve done things differently (or how if he had the time again, he’d still do things the same way) and the complete and utter difficulty of the GOP, led by Mitch McConnell who made it absolutely clear that they wanted Obama to be a one term president and did not intend to work with him on anything.

There’s a lot about the divide (which is surely only worse now, after 4 years of a Republican Trump government) and how right and left have become so opposed to each other on principle that even on things they might agree on, find some common ground, there’s a refusal to. He breaks the book down into big issues: the financial crisis he inherited and the ways they tried to get out of it, the war on terror and conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan, environmental concerns and trying to get it seen as an important issue as well as how it tied into the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, foreign relations with places like Russia, China, the Middle East, his healthcare platform and how passionate he was about it and also the search for Osama bin Laden, the successful operation of which is the closer for this book.

If you ever wonder what Obama was thinking about a certain issue or why he made a choice that he did regarding policy, you’ll most likely find the answer in here. It’s very thorough about all the things he wanted to achieve, all the things they did during that first term, the disappointments of things they couldn’t get done and his views on various happenings. There’s not a lot about his personal life though, his thoughts and dreams. Obama comes across as quite unflappable – he doesn’t appear to lose his temper very often (although he does detail 1 or 2 incidents of having to bawl out a cabinet member) and for the most part, he seems to remain steady, even when he’s being stymied at every turn or in the middle of the birther conspiracy. Michelle is seemingly the more passionate one of the pair, quicker to anger (he does drop several remarks that his wife be fierce) whereas he is more measured, maybe prone to a sarcastic side comment but little else in the way of expressing frustration. He has obvious love for his family but protects them here, keeping their private lives mostly private except for a few anecdotes, most of which revolve around things his daughters think he should fix.

This took me five days to read, which for me, is a long time. I was averaging just over 100p a day because it is very detailed and probably more so for me because this is not my home country and a lot of these things are simply things I don’t have in my news cycle every day and also because some of this stuff is over a decade ago now and has faded from memory. I do think that despite all the dissection of policy and critique, Obama’s voice comes through strongly. I’ve always enjoyed listening to him talk or hearing him interviewed (he reads the audiobook of this, which I have grabbed as well, to listen to in the future) and his eloquence and intelligence, his compassion and humour do come through, even when he’s talking about the ins and outs of Wall Street or the motor industry.

I have a stack of political memoirs or biographies to read: I have My Life by Bill Clinton, Hard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton and a biography on Franklin D. Roosevelt that my husband borrowed from our local library that he’s read and enjoyed and passed onto me. Roosevelt’s New Deal and a lot of Clinton’s policies (as the previous Democratic president) get quite a bit of page time in this book so I’m interested to read both of those. And Hillary’s book is a little bit of a cross over with this one as Hard Choices details her time as Obama’s Secretary of State.

I found this compelling reading – no one is perfect and you can’t please everyone, something that is detailed here more than once. But all you can do is try and I think Obama certainly comes across like he tried to implement a vision. It didn’t always work….but sometimes it did.

8/10

Book #232 of 2020

11 Comments »

Review: Catch And Kill by Ronan Farrow

Catch And Kill: Lies, Spies A Conspiracy To Protect Predators
Ronan Farrow
Little, Brown & Company
2019, 418p
Read from my local library

Blurb from the publisher/Goodreads.com:

In this instant New York Times bestselling account of violence and espionage, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Ronan Farrow exposes serial abusers and a cabal of powerful interests hell-bent on covering up the truth, at any cost.

In 2017, a routine network television investigation led Ronan Farrow to a story only whispered about: one of Hollywood’s most powerful producers was a predator, protected by fear, wealth, and a conspiracy of silence. As Farrow drew closer to the truth, shadowy operatives, from high-priced lawyers to elite war-hardened spies, mounted a secret campaign of intimidation, threatening his career, following his every move, and weaponizing an account of abuse in his own family.

All the while, Farrow and his producer faced a degree of resistance they could not explain — until now. And a trail of clues revealed corruption and cover-ups from Hollywood to Washington and beyond.

This is the untold story of the exotic tactics of surveillance and intimidation deployed by wealthy and connected men to threaten journalists, evade accountability, and silence victims of abuse. And it’s the story of the women who risked everything to expose the truth and spark a global movement.

Both a spy thriller and a meticulous work of investigative journalism, Catch and Kill breaks devastating new stories about the rampant abuse of power and sheds far-reaching light on investigations that shook our culture.

I can’t remember when I first heard about this book but I knew it had been on my radar for a while and I requested it from my library and was one in a long line of people wanting to read it. It finally came in one of their deliveries and I’d almost forgotten about it until I got an email saying it would be due back soon and I realised I’d better read it quickly. I picked this up at 5pm to start one day, just anticipating reading 50-100 pages. I’d just finished the Obama book and I didn’t really think I’d be in for another pretty detailed non-fiction read but as soon as I started this, I couldn’t put it down. I finished it at 10pm the same night.

This was brilliant. I am reading this with the perspective of knowing the fallout, of how Harvey Weinstein was finally brought down after what was probably decades of abusing women who suffered a severe imbalance of power. But what I didn’t realise was just how much work went into this piece by not just Farrow but scores of other people as well, the non-stop research, fact-checking, legal covering, etc that had to be done to make sure that this could be published without being torn apart. Harvey Weinstein was a very, very powerful man and he had a huge army of lawyers and also other people that he paid to keep stories like this one buried.

And then of course, there’s the women who were brave enough to finally speak out about this behaviour. Not just the actresses like Rose McGowan, Rosanna Arquette, Mira Sorvino and others, but also people that used to work for Weinstein. He wielded NDA’s pretty heavily but some of them were still willing to talk and not just talk, put their names to the story, to take away the anonymity that people can use as a defence and give a face to the experience. It sounded like a brutal world, a man heady with power who used female staff as a way to lure women in that he wanted to see. The stories by different women had so many similar themes: Harvey cajoling women up to a room about a professional matter (and he’s the boss, the dude with all the say, in a lot of cases these people couldn’t afford to say no) and then appearing in a bathrobe, asking for a massage or telling them he’s going to masturbate. In some cases, it was grabbing them forcefully and pinning them down. He used his power to make sure that they didn’t dare speak out and if they did, he employed a vast amount of people to dig up stories to discredit them and bury anything on him. It went as far as even getting a New York DA to agree not to press charges when the victim wore a wire that had him admitting it on it. For a lot of people this was an open secret for so many years but no one could speak out without severe repercussions and he slid away from the scandal again and again. Until this time.

The personal toll this took on Farrow is detailed here as well. Not just the hours and hours of research and trying to find people to speak, to have their stories heard and trying to protect them, but also the way in which Weinstein hit back: having him followed, threatening Farrow’s employment with NBC, getting them to kill the story as well as threatening to sue him personally and suggesting that Farrow was compromised by the allegations his own sister had made of being abused in her childhood by Farrow’s father, director Woody Allen (a compatriot of Weinstein’s, who actually provides him with advice on how to handle the allegations). Allen’s story is well known (he married his former partner’s adopted daughter, their affair starting when he was 56 and she was 21) and his adopted daughter (with Farrow), Dylan, has accused him of sexual assault when she was a child. Ronan is a supporter of his sister’s claims, which was used against him in a letter by Weinstein’s lawyers and as an attempt to discredit his research and story. And when the #MeToo movement grew in numbers and more women started sharing their stories publicly, Farrow also realised that the place where he’d been working, the one that at first encouraged the story and then tried to kill it because of pressure from Weinstein, was also rotten. NBC had several high profile anchors taken down by the movement and were forced to part ways with people like Matt Lauer, as an example. Farrow broadened his investigation to listening to some of those stories too, for the purpose of publication and has now made a name for himself for investigative reporting of this type.

This book showcases how pervasive sexual assault in the workplace can be and how women can be left feeling like they have no option but to comply with what is being demanded of them because of a threat to their job or even the harmony of the workplace. It’s hard I think, for people to understand sometimes that rape doesn’t have to be a violent transaction in a dark alley. It can be because the woman is too scared to say no, is paralysed with fear, is drunk, is under threat. It’s something Weinstein definitely didn’t understand, until it all came tumbling down. Although chances are, he doesn’t understand it still.

This was excellent. So thorough and a testament to Farrow’s strength. He could’ve given up a hundred times, after he was blocked at so many turns but he kept going, he took the story somewhere else after NBC killed it, found it a home and they vetted it and vetted it until they were 100% sure it couldn’t be discredited. And now Weinstein is where he deserves to be – in jail.

9/10

Book #233 of 2020

 

4 Comments »

Review: The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa

The Worst Best Man
Mia Sosa
Avon
2020, 358p
Read via my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A wedding planner left at the altar. Yeah, the irony isn’t lost on Carolina Santos, either. But despite that embarrassing blip from her past, Lina’s managed to make other people’s dreams come true as a top-tier wedding coordinator in DC. After impressing an influential guest, she’s offered an opportunity that could change her life. There’s just one hitch… she has to collaborate with the best (make that worst) man from her own failed nuptials.

Tired of living in his older brother’s shadow, marketing expert Max Hartley is determined to make his mark with a coveted hotel client looking to expand its brand. Then he learns he’ll be working with his brother’s whip-smart, stunning —absolutely off-limits — ex-fiancée. And she loathes him.

If they can survive the next few weeks and nail their presentation without killing each other, they’ll both come out ahead. Except Max has been public enemy number one ever since he encouraged his brother to jilt the bride, and Lina’s ready to dish out a little payback of her own.

But even the best laid plans can go awry, and soon Lina and Max discover animosity may not be the only emotion creating sparks between them. Still, this star-crossed couple can never be more than temporary playmates because Lina isn’t interested in falling in love and Max refuses to play runner-up to his brother ever again… 

Recently I have been deep into the Barack Obama book (review to come of that one later this week) and it’s been something I’ve really had to focus on and I’ve only been reading about 100p or so of it a day. I decided to take a break and read something else, something a bit lighter, and this sounded interesting.

Lina is a wedding planner and at one of the weddings she’s coordinating a guest offers her the chance to come and interview for a prestigious job at the line of hotels she runs. Lina is determined to get this only to discover that she’s handicapped straight away. There are two candidates and each will be helped in their interview pitch by a marketing expert. To Lina’s horror, the marketing experts are her ex-fiance, who dumped her at the altar five years ago and his younger brother, apparently the reason her ex “saw the light” and fled the marriage before it could take place. Despite her hatred of Max, the younger brother, she’d much rather work with him than Andrew, her ex-fiance and so she snaps him up immediately and makes it clear that he’s decoration in this gig. She’ll get the job and she’ll get it on her own.

I didn’t love this. I understand Lina has some really raw feelings about being dumped just before her wedding was about to take place and Max was both a) the bearer of the bad news and b) according to his text message, the reason that Andrew bailed. And even though he’s the lesser of two evils for her to work with to get this job, she still decides to make his life a misery as some sort of revenge? Even though Max doesn’t remember what it is that he said or did to make his brother to decide to not be married and really, if it was that easy, clearly the guy wasn’t ready to be married anyway. Also it was five years ago and Lina is going for the job of her career – she’s already pretended to her new potential boss that she doesn’t know Max or Andrew so maybe it might be a good idea to….oh…..I don’t know, be professional? No, this doesn’t really occur to her and instead it’s childish pranks and stupid remarks and bickering.

I think this is supposed to be funny but it really wasn’t my type of humour. It’s told from both points of view and although I enjoyed Lina’s family, Lina herself wasn’t particularly interesting. Max is having pretty much immediate thoughts about Lina as soon as they come back into contact, although he tries not to. But as they work together more and more and keep instigating “truces” (which rarely last as one of them, generally Lina, does something childish and annoying), Max finds the thoughts harder and harder to ignore. For me though, they had zero chemistry and oh god, the sex scenes were awkward AF. I think they were supposed to be filled with “witty banter” but yikes, too much talking. If you have time to be doing that much talking then you are not doing enough of the sex. And I like scenes where the female character is assertive and not afraid to really go after her own pleasure too but a blow by blow description of exactly how cunnilingus is an art form…..too much. I can do with less actual explaining of what Lina likes.

There were a lot of things that felt shoehorned into this, almost like the plot had too much going on and some of those things fizzled out or were not really adequately resolved with any meaning. Like a lot is made of the competitiveness between Max and his brother and how their (astute, business-savvy) mother sees Andrew as this amazing marketing executive: high flying, going places but really he’s a dunce who keeps needing to ask Max how to do things or stealing his ideas. Why do they have this dumb competitiveness? How did it start? Why is Max such a doormat about his brother? Stop giving him the answers and let him sink or swim, you numpty. The brother is pretty heinous, but in this really bland and generic way, like he is cookie cutter douchy. He and Max have one scene that sort of half resolves things between them (but also feels like it raises more questions than answers) but he and Lina don’t really get much airtime. And towards the end, despite being the driving force in their “relationship”, Max has this completely random freak out about Lina and how being with her somehow makes him second-best to his brother again. Awesome. What a compliment!

5/10

Book #231 of 2020

2 Comments »