All The Books I Can Read

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Review: The Good Sister by Sally Hepworth

The Good Sister
Sally Hepworth
St Martin’s Press
2021, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

From the outside, everyone might think Fern and Rose are as close as twin sisters can be: Rose is the responsible one, with a home and a husband and a fierce desire to become a mother. Fern is the quirky one, the free spirit, the librarian who avoids social interaction and whom the world might just describe as truly odd. But the sisters are devoted to one another and Rose has always been Fern’s protector from the time they were small.

Fern needed protecting because their mother was a true sociopath who hid her true nature from the world, and only Rose could see it. Fern always saw the good in everyone. Years ago, Fern did something very, very bad. And Rose has never told a soul. When Fern decides to help her sister achieve her heart’s desire of having a baby, Rose realizes with growing horror that Fern might make choices that can only have a terrible outcome. What Rose doesn’t realize is that Fern is growing more and more aware of the secrets Rose, herself, is keeping. And that their mother might have the last word after all.

Spine tingling, creepy, utterly compelling and unpredictable, The Good Sister is about the ties that bind sisters together…and about the madness that lurks where you least expect it.

Sally Hepworth always writes compelling stories and this one is no exception. It’s told as a dual narrative – Rose tells hers in the form of diary entries whereas we get Fern’s inner thoughts and daily life as she’s living it. The two are twins (not identical) and from the beginning, it’s quite obvious that Rose protects Fern, has always protected Fern, from when they were children to even now, as adults. Fern processes things a different way to most people – she’s very literal, she often has difficulty picking up certain cues. For example, she won’t answer someone if the person doesn’t phrase their speech in the form of a question. For Fern, questions require answers but statements do not. So when her boss often says something that for her requires Fern to respond, Fern often doesn’t see the need to.

Rose looks like she has her whole life together. Lovely house, wonderful husband although at the moment he’s working abroad. And now she and her husband are trying for a baby and when Fern discovers that it may not be that easy for Rose, she’s willing to help out. After all, Rose helped Fern years ago, many years ago and Fern has felt like she’s owed her ever since. This might be her chance to help Fern the way Fern once helped her….

I don’t have a sister. So I don’t know what that sort of relationship is like – I’ve witnessed a lot of sister relationships, some more toxic than others. I think it’s a very complex relationship, some I’ve seen where the sisters are so close they’re almost one person. Others where they can’t even be in the same room and almost everything in-between. I don’t really know any sets of twins but I’d imagine that adds a whole new layer to that dynamic.

The book builds well in the beginning, describing the life of the twins growing up, dividing up the story between Fern and Rose, dripping it out to the reader. For a while, you’re pretty convinced that you have the story and I did wonder if the book actually tipped its hand a bit too early. Recently I read another book about twins, where there are some complications of a pregnancy (in this case, for an inheritance) and although it was structured in a very different way, it was, in some ways, similar in vibe. However, this book was more subtle, more realistic I’d say, in terms of the characters and the situation. But I don’t think this one really kept me guessing for as long as I would’ve liked. Instead, things shifted sideways and then it became about who would triumph I think, the so-called long game of which story you chose to believe and who would be believed in the end. There were a lot of complications and the twins were fleshed out well, with added depth as the story went on but I do think that for me, some of the tension (not all, but some) went out of the plot a bit early.

I really enjoyed the setting, especially the fact that a large portion of Fern’s part of the story takes place at the library where she works. Fern avoids anything to do with helping people use the photocopier or the computers but she has such an excellent knowledge of books and also takes part in the story times that the library runs as well. It reminded me quite a lot of my own library (which is still closed) and I liked how Fern came into her own when she was there. I also liked the dynamic between her and the man she meets there, whom she assumes is homeless. I actually didn’t realise until covid hit and a lot of libraries closed, just how much of a resource they were for people in insecure accommodation. I read an article about it actually, how many people come in and use the bathrooms, showers if the library has them, read the papers or use the computers to apply for jobs or places to stay. They are a huge resource for people who are vulnerable and even though the character in the story isn’t actually homeless, it does showcase that in the community, a library is much more than just a place to borrow a book.

This was a good, solid read with some twists and turns.


Book #230 of 2020

The Good Sister is the 85th book read for The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020


Review: When I Come Home Again by Caroline Scott

When I Come Home Again
Caroline Scott
Simon & Schuster AUS
2020, 480p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

They need him to remember. He wants to forget.

1918. In the last week of the First World War, a uniformed soldier is arrested in Durham Cathedral. When questioned, it becomes clear he has no memory of who he is or how he came to be there.

The soldier is given the name Adam and transferred to a rehabilitation home. His doctor James is determined to recover who this man once was. But Adam doesn’t want to remember. Unwilling to relive the trauma of war, Adam has locked his memory away, seemingly for good.

When a newspaper publishes a feature about Adam, three women come forward, each claiming that he is someone she lost in the war. But does he believe any of these women? Or is there another family out there waiting for him to come home?

Based on true events, When I Come Home Again is a deeply moving and powerful story of a nation’s outpouring of grief, and the search for hope in the aftermath of war. 

This book had one of the most fascinating premises I’ve seen in a long time.

It’s the end of WWI and a man with no memory of who he is, but wearing a uniform is found. Dedicated doctors try to work with him to help him grasp those memories but little progress is made and so they have his photo taken and put in the newspaper, asking those to come forward if they know him. They are shocked by the influx of people all convinced that this man is their son, their husband, their brother. They narrow the inquiries down to 3 – an older woman seeking her son Robert, a sister seeking her brother Ellis, needing help to care for his children and a woman named Anna seeking her husband Mark. All three women are sure that this man, named Adam by the police that found him, is their lost loved one. Each of them is so convinced, they cannot believe the doctors just do not release Adam to them immediately. But for the most part, Adam does not find any meaning in meeting with these people, visiting where they live….he remains firmly convinced that whoever he is, he is most likely not the man any of them seek. He himself draws a face over and over again, although he doesn’t know who the person is that he draws, only that he misses her.

This is a book that highlights the sort of trauma men experienced in the war – it’s not just Adam and whatever it is he’s repressing. But when he goes to live at a…I don’t want to say institution, it’s more a respite house for men who are traumatised from the war, you get a glimpse into the situations of several of the other men who pass through. There’s a real struggle I think, to understand how brutal some of those fights were. Talks of guns going by the way side and fighting for your life using your fists and fear. I think it also says a lot of how much isn’t understood about the human brain and psyche. For example, the man known as Adam has experienced something so traumatic, so devastating that his mind has basically blocked out everything of his past. Not just the war but his whole life. And he is somewhat resistant to some of the help on offer. It’s clear that he is well aware that there are things he doesn’t want to relive. And with the people that turn up, convinced that Adam is their loved one….James, the doctor, believed that they thought that Adam really was their loved one. Truly believed it. It shows, I guess, what a powerful motivator desperation can be. When someone has a chance of being reunited with a loved one, perhaps there isn’t anything that they’re willing to not believe in order for it to happen. Even after James decides that some of the cases are not valid, they refuse to accept his decision. Perhaps to believe in Adam as their loved one but not willing to return to them, is better than to accept the alternative. That their loved one is gone forever. And with the lack of a body sometimes, after war, there’s no closure.

I know that life isn’t perfect. And I think this is based on a true story, although how much it takes from that, I don’t know. However, I found the ending frustrating. And a bit sad. And I don’t necessarily mean that in a negative way at all. I think it’s definitely thought provoking and would be such a great topic of conversation for a book club, or group of friends. There’s such a lot to unpack with this and it’s the sort of story which is so complex that it was unlikely it would be a neat, all-things-tied-in-a-bow ending. There were probably so many families that never got the answers they needed after the war ended, when people they loved didn’t come home. There were probably so many situations where the men who fought and returned, did so with scars that never healed. And that affected them and those around them for the rest of their lives. There must be so many stories similar to Adam’s, people who lost themselves and couldn’t be unlocked. Perhaps means like the ones employed here helped find the answers, perhaps they did not.

A really gripping, interesting read.


Book #229 of 2020



Review: The Duke And I by Julia Quinn

The Duke And I (Bridgertons #1)
Julia Quinn
2019 (originally 2000), 464p
Freebie via iBooks

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

In the ballrooms and drawing rooms of Regency London, rules abound. From their earliest days, children of aristocrats learn how to address an earl and curtsey before a prince—while other dictates of the ton are unspoken yet universally understood. A proper duke should be imperious and aloof. A young, marriageable lady should be amiable…but not too amiable.

Daphne Bridgerton has always failed at the latter. The fourth of eight siblings in her close-knit family, she has formed friendships with the most eligible young men in London. Everyone likes Daphne for her kindness and wit. But no one truly desires her. She is simply too deuced honest for that, too unwilling to play the romantic games that captivate gentlemen.

Amiability is not a characteristic shared by Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings. Recently returned to England from abroad, he intends to shun both marriage and society—just as his callous father shunned Simon throughout his painful childhood. Yet an encounter with his best friend’s sister offers another option. If Daphne agrees to a fake courtship, Simon can deter the mamas who parade their daughters before him. Daphne, meanwhile, will see her prospects and her reputation soar.

The plan works like a charm—at first. But amid the glittering, gossipy, cut-throat world of London’s elite, there is only one certainty: love ignores every rule…

This novel includes the 2nd epilogue, a peek at the story after the story.

Well. This is awkward.

Apparently I read this five years ago but I had zero memory of it until I reached a scene quite close to the end, that I will talk about in more detail later. But given this is a big deal about to drop on Netflix later this month, I thought I’d read the first book and get brushed up on who is who because I do enjoy a period adaptation and I’m really loving a lot of the Netflix takes on books. I’ve watched a few of their ones on YA books and I’m hoping this one is enjoyable.

So the first book introduces us to the Bridgerton family – eight siblings, named in alphabetical order. So Anthony, Benedict, Colin, Daphne, Eloise, Francesca, Gregory and Hyacinth. Their father has passed, which makes Anthony the head of the household and he’s also a Viscount. Daphne, the oldest daughter has been ‘out’ for several years and has received some offers but has rejected every one as being unsuitable. Anthony supports his younger sister in wanting to be happy in her marriage but not to the extent of drawing the attention of his close friend Simon, Duke of Hasting, whom Anthony was at Eton with. Simon has recently returned from some years abroad and has created a stir among the mothers of ladies of marriageable age. When he and Daphne meet quite by chance, they end up coming up with a scheme where they will “pretend” to court: this will keep the mothers away from Simon (or so he thinks) and a Duke showing interest in Daphne might make some of the more eligible young men see her in a different light, rather than just a friend. But of course, things get carried away, they are caught in a rather compromising position and must marry. Simon makes it clear to Daphne he cannot have children which causes the conflict after their marriage.

Okay, so this was mostly fine – Simon’s background is not unusual for a Duke in such a novel: his mother knew her duty so well to provide an heir that she gave her life for it. His father was a cold, unfeeling man who only wanted someone he could mould in his very image. But it differs a bit as Simon didn’t speak until he was four and then had a significant stutter which led to his father denouncing him as an “idiot”. Simon worked really hard to master his stutter (it will still appear in times of emotional stress) but never pleased his father so he left for abroad and only returned once he inherited the Dukedom. To spite his father he plans to get no heir, allowing the name to die out. It’s all bit stupid but probably makes sense for the time period I guess. Simon’s made out as a notorious rake but he’s literally the least rake-like character I think I’ve ever come across. There’s no debauchery described, not even a whisper. He’s actually rather bland.

But the book turned for me after they were married. Firstly, it relies an awful lot on Daphne, who has seven siblings including three older “rakish” brothers, not knowing a single thing about sex. Which yes, I know well-bred young ladies were kept rather sheltered but her youngest sibling is about 10, she’s in her 20s. Her mother, who had eight kids, stutters and stammers her way through the worst “preparation” speech about marital duty ever. This was a woman determined to see her daughters married. When one marries a Duke, one is expected to provide an heir. You’d think her mother would’ve prepared her how to provide that, even if it was in euphemistic terms. But Daphne has to go into this marriage ridiculously clueless so that it takes her a long time to figure out what Simon is doing when he never “finishes” inside of her.

The following paragraph contains ***SPOILERS***

And then this book took an even worse turn for me. At best this scene is blatant self-serving disgraceful manipulation and betrayal, at worst it’s marital rape. If it were the other way around and a man used his position to hold down his wife and finish inside of her to impregnate her against her will when she had specifically asked he not, tried to stop it, tried to basically beg in a position of vulnerability…..the fact that it’s Daphne who uses her position to hold Simon down and continue, even after he realises where it’s going and asks her to stop, tries to get her to move etc, shouldn’t make a difference. And the worst thing I think is, after the fact, she realises what she’s done, how it was against his will (he was drunk, so vulnerable, not quite with all his faculties, he was agreeable to the sex, but not the way it ended and he did ask she stop) and what it means, she’s not even sorry. She got what she wanted to achieve, no matter the consequences and the fact that this is used as a catalyst to address the issues between them without her ever acknowledging what she did was wrong, meant that my opinion of this story was severely compromised. I honestly hope the Netflix adaptation leaves this out and thinks of another way to resolve the conflict between the two. Because this is a shitty one.

End ***SPOILERS***

I’m not sure how I feel about continuing with the series now. Anthony was my least favourite character in this anyway (so much blustery older brother) and his book is next. Hopefully the other books give me less….rapey vibes.


Book #228 of 2020




Review: Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

Boyfriend Material
Alexis Hall
Sourcebooks Casablanca
2020, 427p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

One (fake) boyfriend
Practically perfect in every way

Luc O’Donnell is tangentially–and reluctantly–famous. His rock star parents split when he was young, and the father he’s never met spent the next twenty years cruising in and out of rehab. Now that his dad’s making a comeback, Luc’s back in the public eye, and one compromising photo is enough to ruin everything.

To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship…and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come. He’s a barrister, an ethical vegetarian, and he’s never inspired a moment of scandal in his life. In other words: perfect boyfriend material. Unfortunately apart from being gay, single, and really, really in need of a date for a big event, Luc and Oliver have nothing in common. So they strike a deal to be publicity-friendly (fake) boyfriends until the dust has settled. Then they can go their separate ways and pretend it never happened.

But the thing about fake-dating is that it can feel a lot like real-dating. And that’s when you get used to someone. Start falling for them. Don’t ever want to let them go.

I read this on a whim. I had a couple of books left on my monthly TBR but they were all war-related or quite serious looking and I wasn’t really in the mood for that. Life is about balance and I needed a bit of fluffy romance in my life. So I scrolled through what my library offerings on the Borrow Box app and landed on this and thought it looked pretty interesting.

Luc O’Donnell is the son of a very famous rockstar but he doesn’t know his father – who walked out on he and his mother (also a very famous singer) when Luc was just 3. Put a bit bluntly, Luc is a bit of a mess. He’s been through some times in the tabloids and he was also betrayed by a previous partner. Luc hasn’t had a relationship for a long time and he’s not sure how to act in one. In contrast, straight-laced Oliver has had many relationships, none of which have worked out. Luc is shocked when Oliver agrees to fake date him, for their mutual benefit although Luc’s incredibly low self-esteem doesn’t allow him to see any benefit in this arrangement to Oliver, especially when Luc keeps stuffing up.

I really, really enjoyed this story. This sort of opposites pairing is definitely my thing – I really enjoy romances where one of the characters is generally quite reserved, straight-laced, maybe even a bit uptight and the other one is outgoing, or extroverted. Anyone who knows anything about me also knows that I love the “fauxmance” trope as well! Essentially, Luc is definitely the more gregarious character – from the outside looking in, he’s also a bit of a wreck. He’s got a lot of issues revolving around the abandonment of his father when he was very young and the fact he hasn’t seen him since. Luc’s mother realised him on her own and Luc has also experienced people being interested in him for precisely who his father is, rather than anything else. Loads has been written about him in gossip rags, most of it garbage. Around the time he asks Oliver to fake-date him to save his job, Luc’s father reappears in his life, which rocks a lot of his precarious mental health and takes a huge toll on him emotionally. Oliver is incredibly supportive of Luc and even as they navigate this “fake-dating” stuff and start to catch feelings, and occasionally mess things up, Oliver remains a steadying presence for Luc, always there when required and a sounding board for Luc’s quite often chaotic mental thought processes. What I also really liked was that later on in the book, it was revealed that Oliver is not always as put together as he seems and that he definitely has an Achilles heel as well, which he finds it very hard to deal with and Luc gets the opportunity to stand up and defend and support Oliver as well. Which he does, in a way that makes it very clear that he can be the stable, steady one for Oliver to lean on when required. I’m not sure Luc has ever really had an opportunity to do that before.

Both Oliver and Luc had their reasons for this fake dating thing but I feel as though Oliver would’ve done it no matter what. I loved the humour in this – Oliver is hilarious, the way he talks especially when he’s nervous or a bit off kilter and Luc’s incredulousness at his vocabulary and often formal manner of speaking makes for some good banter. The thing that I did really like about it is that the both of them accepted the other for everything that they were – their differences, their weak spots and flaws. In fact a lot of the things that Luc claimed irritated him about Oliver he ended up finding incredibly endearing. This story seemed quite hilarious in the beginning and it was funny but the further into it I got, the more depth Luc and Oliver had, and so did their fake relationship as they learned each other’s vulnerabilities and saw each other at their worst. This would be re-read material for me, if I owned it. Which I may have to do one day.


Book #226 of 2020




DNF Review: The Tourist Attraction by Sarah Morgenthaler

The Tourist Attraction (Moose Springs, Alaska #1)
Sarah Morgenthaler
Narrated by Elise Arsenault
Tantor Audio
2020, 11 hours 36m
Purchased via

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

He had a strict “no tourists” policy…
Until she broke all of his rules.

When Graham Barnett named his diner The Tourist Trap, he meant it as a joke. Now he’s stuck slinging reindeer dogs to an endless parade of resort visitors who couldn’t interest him less. Not even the sweet, enthusiastic tourist in the corner who blushes every time he looks her way…

Two weeks in Alaska isn’t just the top item on Zoey Caldwell’s bucket list. It’s the whole bucket. One look at the mountain town of Moose Springs and she’s smitten. But when an act of kindness brings Zoey into Graham’s world, she may just find there’s more to the grumpy local than meets the eye…and more to love in Moose Springs than just the Alaskan wilderness. 

Yes, this is a DNF (did not finish) review, which I almost never do. In fact I hardly ever not finish a book. If I’d read this, as opposed to listening to it, I probably would’ve slogged through it to the end. But because I was listening to it, it was just taking so damn long. Chapters are like an hour long. And I was so bored I kept falling asleep and waking up 2 chapters later and having no idea what happened and having to go back.

I had seen this book around for a while. It sounded like something I would adore. I love Alaska and books set there! It sounded like it had a bit of a grumpy hero and a sunshine heroine, which is also my thing. I ended up picking it up on Audible when I also got Beach Read and I started this one as soon as I finished that.

Unfortunately, this did just not work for me. I didn’t enjoy the narration – for the longest time I couldn’t figure out what they were calling the hero. I pronounce it as “Gray-em” but turns out, most Americans pronounce that as “Gram”. I ended up asking a bunch of American friends how they say it and it was pretty much 100% of “Gram” and 1 Canadian who mostly would say “Gray-em” but also hears “Gram” sometimes. Anyway, that’s not why I didn’t enjoy it. There’s a lot of other reasons why but I didn’t warm to the narration at all either, which I feel is a big hurdle when listening to an audiobook.

The scene where the hero and heroine meet involve the heroine, who has just flown in for her dream holiday to Alaska, taking an aspirin and then being made Graham’s signature lethal cocktail at his diner, arranged by Zoey’s friend Lana who then conveniently disappears leaving an almost comatose Zoey completely at Graham’s mercy. Now he’s a relatively nice guy (in terms of he doesn’t take advantage) but this scene just had so many problems for me and it was all downhill from there. Inexplicably Graham nicknames Zoey “Zoey-bear” and then proceeds to use this liberally after they’ve known each other about three and a half seconds. He also sprinkles in a lot of “darlins” which I didn’t enjoy either. There’s a ridiculous scene where Zoey takes the wrong turn on a trail, comes across Graham on his property chopping wood and wearing a welder’s mask or something. She screams, kicks him in the nuts and calls the police where they both end up in the same cell for hours until…..they just leave? And then there’s the time Graham turns up at her hotel room at stupid o’clock in the morning because he’s decided he’s taking her to breakfast. And the bus ride to go whale watching where they can’t sit together so he shouts obnoxiously the length of the bus at her and tells the people next to him stupid stories pretending Zoey is “the wife” and making up lies about their lives together.

And that’s about where I tapped out.

I really tried. I was up to about chapter 8 I think and nothing much of note had happened. I didn’t feel any chemistry whatsoever between Graham and “Zoey-bear”, in fact they actually irritated me whenever they were in a scene together which is not at all what you really want. If I’d read this, I’d probably have skimmed it searching for a few scenes that would interest me or to get the general idea of how they even get together and what happens at the end. But I honestly couldn’t put myself through listening to the rest of it – it was taking way too long and I just did not care enough about either of these characters to keep going.

Book #225 of 2020


Review: The City Of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

The City Of Brass (The Daevabad Trilogy #1)
S.A. Chakraborty
Harper Voyager
2018, 526p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles.

But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass, a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.

In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences.

After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for . . .

Probably a year ago I was in a local bookstore and I saw a pile of the second book in this series, The Kingdom Of Copper when it was a new release, ready to put put on the shelves. It was so eye-catching, this vivid green. I didn’t know anything about it and would’ve bought it based on the cover alone but when I looked it up, I saw it was the second in a series so I didn’t bother. I just added the series to my Wishlist and finally got around to buying the first book in it, this one, earlier this year. It’s been sitting on my TBR pile waiting for the right time and I finally got around to picking it up in order to progress on one of my challenges.

Nahri lives in Cairo. She possesses some strange abilities – she can understand languages when she hears them, she also speaks some sort of language she calls her native tongue but no one else seems to know it and she doesn’t know what it’s called. She can heal herself of any injury. She’s a bit of a thief, a bit of a charlatan, doing palm readings and the like, in partnership with an apothecary. She will send her clients his way to purchase what she says will cure them of curses and ills. She doesn’t really believe in some of the darker stuff she dabbles in, like driving out demons – until she accidentally summons a djinn and a bunch of creatures called ifrit who try and kill her. The djinn, known as Dara, whisks her away and it’s he who tells her that she’s the last of a family of healers and he takes her to Daevabad where she meets the ruling family and is welcomed as a sort of prodigal daughter….but all is definitely not as it seems.

I really enjoyed this overall. It’s very long – over 500p and it takes some time for Nahri to be told exactly who she is and reach the city of Daevabad. But when she does, the pace certainly ramps up and there is lots of political intrigue and unrest in the land. To be honest, not all of it is straightforward – the history is dribbled out in bits and pieces and often from different points of view which gives conflicting ideas as to the why but there was some sort of uprising or rebellion or war type thing and there are both full blooded djinn (the human word for what they call themselves) and half-bloods known as shafit, which are the offspring of djinn and humans. There’s different types of magic as well and definitely a lot more than meets the eye to both Nahri, who still has a lot to learn about her heritage and ability as well as Dara, the djinn with a bloody and violent past who is bound to Nahri and her family lineage.

I actually became really invested in Dara and Nahri – things are definitely complicated and there’s a lot of secrets being kept and things that Nahri doesn’t know yet. She’s also introduced to the royal family – there’s a King, who has two sons – the eldest who is heir to the throne and who seems to pass most of his life by being a good time party boy and Ali, the second son who is a bit of a religious zealot who is being groomed for the role of Qaid, which is essentially the head of the Royal Guard, charged with protection of the family and the law and order of the city. Ali is deeply suspicious of Nahri but charged by his father to befriend her in order to bend Nahri to their will, which would be to marry her off to the elder son. Neither Nahri nor the elder son are particularly keen about this idea but the problem is when Ali, who has until this point not been tempted by the female flesh due to his devoutness, starts catching feelings. I don’t know how I feel about this. I have a habit of always picking the wrong one in a love triangle (Nahri starts out with Ali as a “mark” but she ends up quite liking him by the end of this book) and the ending of this concerned me in multiple ways. However there are still two (very fat) books to go so….I have hope! Don’t kill it for me.

This was a bit slow in the beginning but once I settled into the story and kind of sorted everything out in my head, I really got into it and I’m definitely off to purchase the second (and third) ones this week!


Book #223 of 2020

City of Brass counts towards my participation in the 2020 Reading Women Challenge hosted by the Reading Women Podcast. I’ve used to check off prompt #9 – inspired by folklore. This is seriously rich with Middle Eastern and Egyptian folklore. It’s the 22nd book completed for the challenge. I have just four books to go to finish this!

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Review: The Champagne War by Fiona McIntosh

The Champagne War
Fiona McIntosh
Penguin Random House AUS
2020, 413p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

‘Make these little vines count. Love them as I love you.’

In the summer of 1914, vigneron Jerome Mea heads off to war, certain he’ll be home by Christmas. His new bride Sophie Delancré, a fifth generation champenoise, is determined to ensure the forthcoming vintages will be testament to their love and the power of the people of Épernay, especially its strong women who have elevated champagne to favourite beverage of the rich and royal worldwide. But as the years drag on, authorities advise that Jerome is missing, considered dead.

When poison gas is first used in Belgium by the Germans, British chemist Charles Nash jumps to enlist, refusing to be part of the scientific team that retaliates. A brilliant marksman, Charlie is seen by his men as a hero, but soon comes to feel that he’d rather die himself than take another life. When he is injured, he is brought to the champagne cellars in Reims, where Sophie has set up an underground hospital, and later to her mansion house in Épernay, now a retreat for the wounded.

As Sophie struggles with strong feelings for her patient, she also battles to procure the sugar she needs for her 1918 vintage and attracts sinister advances from her brother-in-law. However, nothing can prepare her for the ultimate battle of the heart, when Jerome’s bloodstained jacket and identification papers are found in Belgium, and her hopes of ever seeing her husband alive again are reignited.

From the killing fields of Ypres to the sun-kissed vineyards of southern France, The Champagne War is a heart-stopping adventure about the true power of love and hope to light the way during war.

This is a meticulously researched novel that takes the reader deep into the vineyards of France, during WWI. Sophie is the only remaining member of her family – for five generations they have made champagne. She carries on the tradition with love and care, always looking for ways to improve the vintage. A meeting with Louis Méa, who offers a reluctant Sophie a partnership in business and life leads to his younger brother Jerome, who captures Sophie’s heart from first glance. The two families are joined, but not in the way Louis wanted, although the whole area rejoices in their marriage. Unfortunately the declaration of war interrupts the young lovers almost immediately and Jerome signs up and is then reported as missing, feared dead.

Sophie is determined to have a definitive answer about her husband and she’s willing to do almost anything to get it, even play her brother-in-law’s games. She needs to know. She doesn’t feel like Jerome is dead and their love was so strong, she thinks she’d feel it if he were. She continues to hound the Red Cross for information of him, even as Louis uses her grief and determination to manipulate her. When Sophie is out of sugar to make the vintage she wants to bottle more than any other, she may be forced to rely on Louis after all, despite what it will cost her. Perhaps the intervention of Captain Charlie Nash, a British chemist recuperating from war injuries at Sophie’s country family home, can offer a solution.

I have read a lot more books centred around WWII than I have around WWI and so this contained elements in the story that I haven’t read before. I really enjoyed Sophie as a character – she’s wealthy and very privileged but she’s also down to earth and practical and is willing to do anything to help with causes in the war. She donates her time, her home, her assets to helping the wounded and protecting the town. For a large portion of this, parts of the town she lives in dwell underground and they have a whole community there, including a school for the children. Although this does have health complications for some, it’s better than the alternative and it gives them a place to retreat from the German bombing that has destroyed large parts of the town.

Sophie loses her husband to war – he signs up immediately and is then reported missing, believed dead after a chemical gas attack. For years, she searches for proof of his death, refusing to accept it until she knows for sure, even though there will be thousands of families who never receive that proof they are searching for. Sophie loves Jerome, her husband but she does find herself growing closer to Captain Nash and wondering what she truly wants. Sophie is still a young woman, it’s not too hard to understand that she might want a future with someone else, if her husband truly is lost to her. Louis, her brother-in-law has been trying to use the situation to his advantage. He’s desperate to get her to marry him and Sophie is equally desperate to avoid such a fate. Although I feel she gives Louis far too much credit as a reasonable person – the vibe I got was rotten to the core, but she seemed determined to believed that he was capable of being a reasonable and good human being, even after everything he tried to do to her, especially not allowing her to purchase the sugar he was able to obtain and only offering it to her if she would agree to marry him.

If you enjoy champagne then I think you’ll appreciate the amount of information this book provides on the intricate process of making it. I don’t drink but the process was fascinating to read about and Sophie’s dedication to her craft as well as creating a special vintage for her husband, was admirable. The only thing I might’ve liked was a bit more actual showing of Sophie and Jerome, we didn’t really get a lot of them as a couple before he went off to war. Although I appreciated Sophie’s determination to find him and know for sure, a large portion of the book was devoted to her interactions with Captain Nash and then her internal struggle over having feelings for two men: the one right in front of her and the one who might never come home. I needed a bit more Jerome in the beginning!

An engrossing novel of a traumatic time in history and the ways in which the human strength of spirit was able to persevere. I enjoyed this.


Book #227 of 2020

The Champagne War is book #84 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

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Review: On Pandemics by David Waltner-Toews

On Pandemics: Deadly Diseases From Bubonic Plague to Coronavirus
David Waltner-Towes
Greystone Books Ltd
2020, 500p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Written by a leading epidemiologist, this engrossing book answers our questions about animal diseases that jump to humans – called zoonoses – including why they have become more common in recent history, and what we can do about them.

Almost all pandemics and epidemics – including SARS, Ebola and now COVID-19 – have been caused by diseases that come to us from animals. In On Pandemics, David Waltner-Toews gathers the latest research to profile dozens of illnesses.

Why do zoonotic diseases jump from animals to humans – and why do some hang around for good? How have governments responded to pandemics and epidemics throughout history, for better or worse? How have climate change, industrialised farming, cultural practices, biodiversity loss and globalisation made these diseases not only possible, but the inevitable outcomes of our modern lifestyles?

Coronaviruses have made bats their home for centuries. Until SARS came along, we didn’t know they were there, nor do we know how many other death-dealing viruses might be living undetected in wildlife. On Pandemics examines the increasing impact of animal-borne diseases on our world, and encourages us to re-examine our role in pandemics – for the health of the planet as well as our own survival.

Not my usual sort of read…..but I thought hey, I still have some non-fiction prompts to check off for the 2020 Non Fiction Reader Challenge and also, we’re in the grips of a global pandemic so I thought it might be sort of interesting to read about pandemics: the previous ones, how they start, what defines a pandemic, as well as response to them and success rate etc.

This is very thorough – the author is an epidemiologist, which is a word I was barely aware of before 2020 and now is probably one of the most heard words throughout the year as they take centre stage in setting health advice in terms of fighting the coronavirus. I am not particularly science-orientated, my brain just doesn’t really take in and retain large amounts of scientific information and this is a lot of scientific information. So at times, I did find this a struggle in terms of keeping different types of diseases and viruses and their transmissions straight. Turns out – there are a lot of deadly diseases out there.

In fact, if you’re prone to maybe feeling nervous about your health and are often googling symptoms that you might have convinced you have some sort of terminal illness, maybe don’t read this. It’s full of information about how relatively innocent interactions with mosquitoes or birds can end up giving you any number of different types of hideous ailments most of which have a high fatality rate. All come with debilitating symptoms that seem to start off similar to the ways a common cold or the flu might, aches and pains, maybe a headache, etc.

From what I understand, this was published previously and was then “revised” into a new edition with the emergence of coronavirus in very late 2019/early 2020. However I think it was done too soon as covid-19 actually is only mentioned a couple of times and takes up almost no page space. If you’re after information on the one the world is currently engaged in fighting with various forms of success, then this one isn’t for you. I thought there might be some information on strategies or thought processes developed after the emergence of things like SARS, MERS, avian flu and swine flu but there wasn’t really a lot about that. It’s really just about the ways in which these diseases start in various animals and how they make the transition to humans, often through other animals first.

Not going to lie, I did skim chunks of this – mostly diseases I hadn’t heard of, or ones that started to freak me out. There’s a pretty thorough history of things like the bubonic plague, Ebola, West Nile virus and a whole bunch of others that I had never heard of before picking up this book. But I think for me, this was just too much information at a time and some of that is probably my fault too, because I do tend to read books in a single sitting or two at the most. This was a lot to absorb in 1-2 blocks and most of it has probably melted together in my brain since I read it with most of the technical details disappearing entirely.

One thing that does seem certain from reading this – this won’t be the last time we deal with something like coronavirus and in the future, understanding the potential scale of such an event and response times are going to be crucial. Australia is relatively lucky that it’s an island and once you shut down international travel, restrict who can come into the country and implement quarantine, it’s not too difficult to control something like this. Although as Victoria knows, accidents happen and the virus can jump from quarantine situations if there are people who don’t do things to the letter. But in terms of large landmasses like Europe and countries who reject the idea of lockdowns to suppress the virus in the community, it’s always going to be very difficult to control something like this with high density living and a lot of movement of people through countries. But there’s nothing about the message here really, for most viruses, although there was a bit of talk of the complexity and difficulties trying to implement methods in Africa, to control some of the deadly viruses and diseases there.

This had a bit too much raw science information for my mind, it was a bit of overload. And reissuing it so soon after the emergence of covid-19 was kind of pointless as it didn’t really get the chance to capitalise on including it properly other than a few throwaway lines.


Book #218 of 2020

Counting this one towards participation in the 2020 Non-Fiction Reader Challenge, hosted by Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out. This is the 11th book read for the challenge – I have just one category to go! Feeling good. This is ticking off Medical Issue prompt (although I could’ve also used it for the science prompt, which is the one category I have left to complete).

1. Memoir

2. Disaster Event

3. Social Science

4. Related to an Occupation

5. History

6. Feminism

7. Psychology

8. Medical Issue

9. Nature

10. True Crime

11. Science

12. Published in 2020

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Review: The Bookish Life Of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

The Bookish Life Of Nina Hill
Abbi Waxman
Headline Review
2019, 333p
Read via my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Meet Nina Hill: A young woman supremely confident in her own… shell.

The only child of a single mother, Nina has her life just as she wants it: a job in a bookstore, a kick-butt trivia team, a world-class planner and a cat named Phil. If she sometimes suspects there might be more to life than reading, she just shrugs and picks up a new book.

When the father Nina never knew existed suddenly dies, leaving behind innumerable sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews, Nina is horrified. They all live close by! They’re all–or mostly all–excited to meet her! She’ll have to Speak. To. Strangers. It’s a disaster! And as if that wasn’t enough, Tom, her trivia nemesis, has turned out to be cute, funny, and deeply interested in getting to know her. Doesn’t he realize what a terrible idea that is?

Nina considers her options.
1. Completely change her name and appearance. (Too drastic, plus she likes her hair.)
2. Flee to a deserted island. (Hard pass, see: coffee).
3. Hide in a corner of her apartment and rock back and forth. (Already doing it.)

It’s time for Nina to come out of her comfortable shell, but she isn’t convinced real life could ever live up to fiction. It’s going to take a brand new family, a persistent suitor, and the combined effects of ice cream and trivia to make her turn her own fresh page.

I’ve seen a few glowing reviews of this one and heard a lot of talk and it was also recommended in the Goodreads group for the Reading Women Challenge, particularly for the prompt of feel good/happy book. I requested it through my library months ago but it was checked out and the library was closed for so long (even the return chutes) so they just kept extending the time everyone could keep their library books. I’ve had some for what must be about 7 months. Anyway, libraries are finally reopening, they’ve stopped a lot of the automatic extensions and things have actual return dates again. So this book finally made it’s way to me when the library reinstated its excellent delivery service.

Nina is almost 30, lives in a sort of granny flat of a larger property owned by friends of her mother’s. She works in a bookshop and has a pretty full life of book clubs and trivia nights and occasional yoga as well as plenty of time alone to read. Then a lawyer visits the bookshop and tells her that her father has died. The father Nina never knew anything about, even his name. His death brings a load of relatives she never knew existed into her life, with mixed results and then there’s the prospect of a potential romance, if Nina can let someone into her solitary existence.

I enjoyed this – it is a feel good/happy sort of book. Nina is living the sort of life I don’t think I’d mind! Despite the fact that she’s shy, a bit of an introvert, she has friends, she does social things. Some of them revolve around her work, others don’t. But she does need time alone to decompress, which is something I can 100% relate to. I liked all the stuff with the quiz teams, especially the team names, they were fun. I enjoyed the awkwardness between Nina and Tom and I found her extended family amusing (mostly) although I’m not sure we ever really got a handle on the character of Nina’s mother and why she would make the choices she did.

I really loved that the book included the pages from Nina’s planner every day where she recorded what she did, what she was going to do or should be doing etc. I love planners and planning and have several different planners every year (a blog one and a personal/family one) so seeing that was a lot of fun. I actually found myself relating a lot to Nina – not her childhood, which couldn’t be more different from mine or the arrival of random family members, but more the way in which she enjoyed living her life, the fact that she blocked in actual time to do nothing and read. That is total goals. Nina also has anxiety which hasn’t made sense to her for a long time, especially as her mother seems the complete opposite but meeting her family members on her father’s side gives her some clarity about some aspects of her personality and I think, more acceptance of herself.

This was a great afternoon read, lots of references to books and pop culture and I laughed out loud reading it more than once. It wasn’t perfect and the end did feel very neat and “solver of all problems” type or read but it was still very enjoyable and I would definitely seek out more by this author.


Book #221 of 2020

Counting this one towards my participation in the Reading Women Challenge for 2020 – prompt #20, a feel good/happy book, which this definitely is! It’s the 21st book read for the challenge, which means I have just 5 left to go! Really hoping I can finish this although there are still a few prompts where I feel it’s going to be a struggle.

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Review – The Five: The Untold Lives Of The Women Killed By Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper
Hallie Rubenhold
Transworld Digital
2019, 415p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Five devastating human stories and a dark and moving portrait of Victorian London – the untold lives of the women killed by Jack the Ripper.

Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers. What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888. The person responsible was never identified, but the character created by the press to fill that gap has become far more famous than any of these five women.

For more than a century, newspapers have been keen to tell us that ‘the Ripper’ preyed on prostitutes. Not only is this untrue, as historian Hallie Rubenhold has discovered, it has prevented the real stories of these fascinating women from being told. Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, Rubenhold finally sets the record straight, revealing a world not just of Dickens and Queen Victoria, but of poverty, homelessness and rampant misogyny. They died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time – but their greatest misfortune was to be born a woman. 

In participating in the Reading Women Challenge for the past two years, I have relied on the Goodreads group for a lot of suggestions in the categories I am less familiar with. There’s a lot of incredibly widely read people in there who have some excellent suggestions for even the trickiest of prompts. This was one that came up a lot in the thread for suggestions and recommendations of books that fulfil the “non-fiction by a woman historian” prompt and given it wasn’t particularly long (it says 415p but it’s probably close to 80 or so pages less than that as a large portion at the end is taken up with footnotes, photos and a bibliography) as well as the fact that it was $4.99 on Amazon kindle, I decided it would be a good choice.

I don’t know much about Jack the Ripper – just the basics. Never caught, murdered women that were apparently mostly prostitutes however this book tackles that assumption head on. There are five women that people are sure were definitely murdered by the person called Jack the Ripper, these are known as “the canonical five”. However there are other murders in different areas, some of which are similar some of which are different, where there are disputes about whether or not they were committed by the same person, by someone who attempted to mimic the Ripper style or just by someone completely different. This book focuses on the canonical five and delves deep into their lives. It is meticulously researched.

This isn’t just about the lives of the women, although as I mentioned, they are gone into with thorough detail. It’s also about poverty, Victorian morals and sensibilities, as well as how women were treated especially if they were homeless, or alcoholics or not even prostitutes, but women who aligned themselves with a man for protection in a relationship of convenience. For women without a fixed address, this was often a necessary part of the life. Having a male partner not only helped protect them from men who might seek to take advantage of them or hurt them in other ways, it also meant that sometimes, the meagre income was doubled and if one couldn’t afford a room or bed for the night, sometimes two could. But for women who slept rough or tramped around parts of greater London, a common-law marriage was often the best way to protect oneself, even if it meant that women who often moved around as relationships dissolved, were often looked down upon or mistaken for being prostitutes. And by entering into something like this, at least the woman could make an active choice about who she gave her body too, rather than the threat of someone taking it. This book even delves into the definition of prostitution and how it was a difficult label to apply.

Most of these five women were born into and perpetuated a cycle of extreme poverty. They were generally from a large family (common during the time) often ravaged by disease and hunger. Even when the fathers of these families had what would be termed good working class jobs, those good jobs didn’t stretch to supporting households often upwards of 8 or even 10. The mothers in the families were trapped in a cycle of getting pregnant and having babies, some of which died young. Many of which died young. These women often died young themselves, leaving the children behind even more disadvantaged. Sometimes they were placed in workhouses or forced into marriages – women in these times, in these lives, had few options. Not many were educated, few could read or write. Almost, if not all of the five, had fallen into alcoholism one way or another. Some had left behind lives of “respectability” – marriage and children. In the case of the first woman, Polly, she voluntarily turned herself over to a workhouse in order to escape from her husband after it was clear he preferred someone else. In these times, few options were available to women for them to leave their marriages and in doing so, they’d almost certainly be left homeless, destitute and vulnerable. To make such a choice, one would have to have been desperate.

This is an excellent book – I found it written so well, so compellingly. The lives of all these women were interesting to me but it’s the circumstances as well, down to the police investigations, the reporting by the newspapers and how testimonies at the inquests were twisted (still happening today, really). It says a lot about how women have been treated when they’re victims – from being made to register as sex workers and inspected for disease (it was believed they spread syphilis, however men were not monitored, checked or considered to be spreaders) to the way they were looked down on if they were out at night and, when and if they were the victims of vicious crimes, it was “because they shouldn’t be out late at night/selling sex/ etc”. This was a time when it was still legal for a man to beat and rape his wife and if way to blame a woman for any circumstance could be found, it would be and applied. When a lot of the focus has been on Jack the Ripper – who was he, how did he never get caught, why did he do it, how many was it really, why did he cut them/remove their organs and why did he stop? – this book is focused purely on the five canonical victims and their lives, their stories. And it’s done really, really well.


Book #217 of 2020

This book checks off prompt #6 – Nonfiction by a woman historian. It’s the 20th book read for the challenge! I have just 6 left to read and I actually feel like I can do this.