All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Kingdom Of The Feared by Kerri Maniscalco

Kingdom Of The Feared (Kingdom Of The Wicked #3)
Kerri Maniscalco
Hodder & Stoughton
2022, 401p
Read via my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Two curses.
One prophecy.
A reckoning all have feared.

And a love more powerful than fate. All hail the king and queen of Hell.
 

Emilia is reeling from the shocking discovery that her twin sister, Vittoria, is alive. But before she faces the demons of her past, Emilia yearns to claim her king, the seductive Prince of Wrath, in the flesh. Emilia doesn’t simply desire his body, she wants his heart and soul—but that’s something the enigmatic demon can’t promise her.

When a high-ranking member of House Greed is assassinated, Emilia and Wrath are drawn to the rival demon court. Damning evidence points to Vittoria as the murderer and she’s quickly declared an enemy of the Seven Circles. Despite her betrayal, Emilia will do anything to solve this new mystery and find out who her sister really is.

Together Emilia and Wrath play a sin-fueled game of deception as they work to stop the unrest that’s brewing between witches, demons, shape-shifters and the most treacherous foes of all: the Feared.

Emilia was warned that when it came to the Wicked nothing was as it seemed. But, have the true villains been much closer all along? When the truth is finally revealed, it just might end up costing Emilia her heart.

I really enjoyed the first two books in this series, and had been looking forward to this one coming out. The problem with reading books from the library is that sometimes you forget everything that has happened and I have to admit, I had forgotten where exactly the second book had left off. Had to go and re-read my reviews of the two previous books and try and piece it all together.

In this book, Emilia wants answers about her sister and the strange flashes she’s been getting sometimes. She’s about to discover who she really is, what happened to her and who the perpetrator was. At the same time, she’s navigating trying to claim her King as well, but there are many things that will have to happen before Emilia and Wrath can embrace being the King and Queen of Hell together.

Look, not going to lie – I enjoyed this but I didn’t love it. It’s 50% smut, 30% Emilia being kidnapped in various ways and Wrath tearing the world apart to find her or get her back and 20% actual plot, most of which occurs in the last part of the book. I’m not exactly complaining, I enjoy a good smutty read all the time but the first spicy scene starts in the opening pages and they get repeated with regularity. I’m not sure how time works in this land but they don’t sleep much and it makes the narrative seem slightly repetitive for a large part of it because Wrath and Emilia get busy, get summoned to a court to hear something or other, Emilia gets kidnapped or trapped in some sort of other spiritual plane and then she comes back and Wrath is so relieved to have her back that they get busy again annnnnnd so on and so on.

And like I said, I was mostly here for it. I like Wrath and Emilia and a lot of what was revealed in this book makes me want to go back and re-read their first interactions, when she first summoned him because I think they’d be so interesting. I don’t own copies of these, I read them all from my library which is the downside sometimes, when you cannot just go pull a book off a shelf at whim and re-read a portion that you suddenly see in an entirely different light. Maybe I’ll have to re-borrow the first two and do a proper re-read!

I grew to really like some of Wrath’s ‘brothers’ – specifically Envy, Pride and Sloth and I feel like some of them could definitely be explored in further books, especially Pride. But I sort of get the feeling that story could very much go one of two ways and I’m really only interested in it if it goes one of those ways. I feel as though there’s quite a bit that could be explored further in this world, if the author wants to and I’d definitely be up for reading some of it.

In terms of an ending this was satisfying for me, for Wrath and Emilia. I’m not sure this was the strongest book, in terms of the plot and it definitely didn’t feel like a 400p read but it was entertaining and it wrapped everything up and gave me a good indication of how the future will be.

7/10

Book #191 of 2022

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Review: I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy

I’m Glad My Mom Died
Jennette McCurdy
Simon & Schuster
2022, 304p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: A heartbreaking and hilarious memoir by iCarly and Sam & Cat star Jennette McCurdy about her struggles as a former child actor—including eating disorders, addiction, and a complicated relationship with her overbearing mother—and how she retook control of her life.

Jennette McCurdy was six years old when she had her first acting audition. Her mother’s dream was for her only daughter to become a star, and Jennette would do anything to make her mother happy. So she went along with what Mom called “calorie restriction,” eating little and weighing herself five times a day. She endured extensive at-home makeovers while Mom chided, “Your eyelashes are invisible, okay? You think Dakota Fanning doesn’t tint hers?” She was even showered by Mom until age sixteen while sharing her diaries, email, and all her income.

In I’m Glad My Mom Died, Jennette recounts all this in unflinching detail—just as she chronicles what happens when the dream finally comes true. Cast in a new Nickelodeon series called iCarly, she is thrust into fame. Though Mom is ecstatic, emailing fan club moderators and getting on a first-name basis with the paparazzi (“Hi Gale!”), Jennette is riddled with anxiety, shame, and self-loathing, which manifest into eating disorders, addiction, and a series of unhealthy relationships. These issues only get worse when, soon after taking the lead in the iCarly spinoff Sam & Cat alongside Ariana Grande, her mother dies of cancer. Finally, after discovering therapy and quitting acting, Jennette embarks on recovery and decides for the first time in her life what she really wants.

Told with refreshing candor and dark humor, I’m Glad My Mom Died is an inspiring story of resilience, independence, and the joy of shampooing your own hair.

I have to admit, part of why I wanted to read this was the title. It’s definitely something that catches your eye and makes you stop and think. What could’ve gone on that this would be the chosen title?

It’s a little more complicated than that title suggests. I’m not super familiar with Jennette McCurdy – my older child did watch a little bit of iCarly and Sam & Cat but not a lot and mostly I just remember how irritating Ariana Grande’s voice was as she played a kind of ditzy airhead with this breathy voice to match. Sam, McCurdy’s character was, from what I remember, a kind of tough tomboy who often threatened to beat people up. From the outside I’m sure, McCurdy would’ve looked to have the sort of life people would envy. Two very successful Nickelodeon shows, one of the very few ‘lucky ones’ out of scores of kids that try out for such a role. But the reality of her life seems very, very different.

There are trigger warnings here: sexual assault, disordered eating (both anorexia and bulimia), binge drinking, terminal cancer, controlling and abusive parenting. I’d strongly advise anyone who wants to read this to check beforehand whether or not they think it might contain things that are distressing to them. None of these are triggers for me, bar the terminal cancer and that’s honestly not a huge part of the story, despite kind of being the catalyst for it. But even though none of the other things were triggers for me, this was still a very confronting and difficult read at times, with some of the things detailed in here quite distressing and it’s hard not to imagine yourself or others of the same age in her situation. I have two kids, who are 14 and 11 now and some of the stuff that Jennette details her mother doing to her and her brother when they are older than my children are now, was very disturbing to me. But even though those acts were disturbing, more disturbing is the way her mother framed them and other things, as being acts of love and it is so wrong of them not to want her to do these things anymore. From even just shampooing her hair. It honestly doesn’t sound like McCurdy even shampooed her own hair until she was 18 and her mother relapsed and she found herself on her own for the first time in her life. For a long time, Jennette saw her mother and her as best friends, co-conspirators, a loving and wonderful relationship. She loved her mother, her mother loved her and they had a bond. It took a long time for her to realise (and actually when it was first suggested to her, she stormed out) that maybe, what she experienced as a child and adolescent (and adult, her mother died when Jennette was 21) was in fact, not the norm in a loving parental-child relationship. That complex relationship is told from the perspective of a child and it’s very, very well done.

This is a really good example of a more insidious sort of abuse as well, manipulation and ‘love bombing’ as well as withdrawal of affection and alienation whenever Jennette did or said anything that would not please her mother. Such as wanting to quit acting, which she didn’t particularly enjoy but did only because her mother was so invested in it. Her mother was the very epitome of pushy stage mom and she framed it as wanting more for Jennette than she ever had herself but really it was just living vicariously. At one stage she tells Jennette she’s lucky because most parents would take all the money children earn apart from the % that is mandatory to be placed in their account, but her mother is only going to take “her salary” and bills. It’s never mentioned, but I’d like to know what % was left over after her mother took her “salary”. And look her mother did a lot of driving her to and from auditions and after she got the role, making sure she was on set every day and supervising etc. But she wasn’t ever her manager or representative, she had managers and agents and all that sort of thing, professionals who did that job. There’s absolutely no doubt that Jennette at barely double digit age, was mostly financially responsible for her family of 8 – her parents, three brothers, grandparents and herself. And that is an unbelievable amount of pressure on a child, because she knew it.

This was a really valuable read – it made me think a lot about the children who are pushed into stardom (or even who get into it for their own enjoyment/desires) and who is really looking after them, because a lot of people failed McCurdy here. Her mother, her father, her grandparents, the people in charge of the shows she was on, all exploited her in some way or other, or stood by whilst others did. It seemed both her mother and grandmother had narcissistic tendencies and the whole household revolved around her mother’s moods. This is McCurdy’s story so it doesn’t detail precisely how her brothers were treated, other than the aforementioned section although she does mention that 2 of them seemed to escape the scrutiny that Jennette and one of her brothers experienced and that there were different expectations for them.

Incredibly written. I’ve heard the audiobook praised too and now that she has unreservedly quit acting, refusing a part in the reboot of iCarly I’m sure there’s a writing future for her.

9/10

Book #190 of 2022

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Review: The Journey: A Big Panda & Tiny Dragon Adventure by James Norbury

The Journey: A Big Panda and Tiny Dragon Adventure
James Norbury
Penguin Random House AUS
2022, 159p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: ‘We shall go on a journey, across the river . . .’ 

Join Big Panda and Tiny Dragon as they set off on an extraordinary adventure in this companion to the global bestselling phenomenon Big Panda and Tiny Dragon.

Although content in their temple high up in the mountains, Tiny Dragon realises that something feels incomplete. So it is that they decide to make a journey together, to new and distant lands.

As they encounter dangers and challenges, they learn that everything they need is already inside them and that change, though sometimes scary, is possible and, with patience, can lead to better things.

Inspired by Buddhist philosophy and spirituality, the story of these whimsical characters makes the perfect gift for anyone looking for a little hope and comfort.

This book was so beautiful!

I don’t read a lot of illustrated books anymore – my kids are old enough now that they don’t want to sit down and pick up one and look through it, they’ve moved on to young adult and middle grade novels. This book for me, was a good reminder that a book like this can be for someone of any age, because I read it alone and got so much out of it.

I haven’t read the other Big Panda and Tiny Dragon book, so I didn’t really know anything about them or their dynamic coming into this but it will definitely be high on my list of things to read now.

In this book, Big Panda and Tiny Dragon leave their home and Tiny Dragon has a lot of feelings about it, such as fear and anxiety. Of the unknown, of leaving behind things that are comfortable and familiar, especially as the adventure gets a little bit stressful. Big Panda is the calm voice of reason, often reassuring Tiny Dragon to look for the positives rather than the negatives in things and embracing adventure, rather than lamenting all that is left behind. That perhaps they will find something better, something they like more. Even if it’s a bit of a trek to get there.

It feels relatable, in a lot of ways. For kids who might be reading this with their parents, it might help them understand and process thoughts about new things in their lives, such as school. And for adults – well there’s plenty to get out of this as well, I know I definitely found things that resonated with me. I’m not really one to push myself out of my comfort zone very often and the familiarity of home is definitely something I enjoy. But this is a little timely reminder that sometimes when you step out, things can get bad….but they will get better.

I just have to mention the artwork, which is stunning. It’s a mix of ink black and white drawings as well as some watercolour and some of the watercolour is just so beautiful. The artist sells prints on his website and I’m honestly tempted to get a couple. They’d make beautiful additions to a nursery – my kids are far beyond that but the prints would just as easily sit in any room of a house. Each time I thought I couldn’t find a picture I would like more than a previous one, I would be proved wrong.

I loved this and I will definitely be buying the first book now – they are keepers for the shelf.

9/10

Book #181 of 2022

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Review: Unnecessary Drama by Nina Kenwood

Unnecessary Drama
Nina Kenwood
Text Publishing
2022, 340p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: From the author of the much-loved It Sounded Better In My Head comes a deliciously entertaining new rom-com, set in a run-down student share house in Melbourne.

Eighteen-year-old Brooke is the kind of friend who not only remembers everyone’s birthdays, but also organises the group present, pays for it, and politely chases others for their share. She’s the helper, the doer, the maker-of-spreadsheets. She’s the responsible one who always follows the rules—and she plans to keep it that way during her first year of university.

Her new share house only has one rule: ‘no unnecessary drama’. Which means no fights, tension, or romance between housemates. When one of her housemates turns out to be Jesse, her high-school nemesis, Brooke is determined she can handle it. They’ll simply silently endure living together and stay out of each other’s way. But it turns out Jesse isn’t so easy to ignore…

Channelling the screwball comedy of New Girl with an enemies-to-lovers twist, Unnecessary Dramais a joyful story about leaving home, dealing with the unexpected complications of life, and somehow finding exactly what you need.

Aaah where was this book when I was 18/19 and navigating moving out and all that kind of stuff?

I’m well out of the age demographic of young adult – actually, my oldest child is basically in that demographic now. But I still love reading YA now and then and it’s surprising sometimes, how often I still find one that speaks to me. And this book just gives me so much to identify with, both back when I was the same age as the characters and even now.

Brooke has finished school and is about to start university in Melbourne. She’s a highly anxious person, the sort of person that is always worried about looking after other people, making sure the vacuuming is done and that there’s a nutritious meal in the fridge. She’s living with Hannah and Jesse, her former high school best friend turned nemesis and it’s a lot to navigate. She’s trying to make new friends and just….deal with life.

There’s a great bit in this book about where Brooke talks about why she doesn’t drink and the Various Excuses she has to give people to excuse her from drinking like: taking antibiotics, doing a cleanse, etc and I felt this in my soul. I’ve never really enjoyed drinking, nor am I very good at it. I always skipped the drunk part and seemed to get right to the ok, I’m going to vomit a lot now. Alcohol also triggers a chronic illness I have but explaining this to people, that you don’t like drinking or don’t like hangovers or simply don’t want to, has never been a good enough excuse. Ever. People always try and convince you, saying you just need to drink more, or drink this instead or do this or that and it’s so boring when people don’t drink. I wish I could say that it stopped but it doesn’t seem to and I was questioned often in my 20s and 30s as to why I wasn’t drinking or didn’t want to drink. I’m 40 now and I haven’t actually faced a social situation that brings this up yet but honestly, I don’t see it changing. If you are at a gathering or a party and politely refuse an alcoholic drink, there are almost inevitably questions. And like Brooke, I have cycled through a myriad of excuses and reasons and I’m not even particularly social. Normalise not drinking, for whatever reason. Australia has a huge binge drinking culture and it definitely seems to garner a lot of sideways glances and ‘but why?’ when you tell people you don’t drink or don’t feel like drinking.

I really enjoyed the romance in this – Brooke and Jesse were best friends in high school but then Something Happened and they stopped talking. It has haunted Brooke ever since and Jesse moving in definitely brings a lot of that back up again. And then you find out Jesse’s feelings on what happened as well and…..look, Jesse did a horrible thing. For sure. But I liked the way that it played out and honestly, I felt like it was so believable. Teens make mistakes. They do and say stupid things to save face, to look cool, to save themselves from embarrassment and ridicule. This deals with the fallout of that and two people navigating their way back to friendship….and maybe more. It involves coming to terms with what happened in the past, understanding it and being able to move on and for the longest time, Brooke doesn’t even want to talk about it. Which, I also get. But she needs to hear him out in order to ever have the chance to actually move forward and the two of them….there’s definitely something there that needs exploring but it can’t be done effectively until Brooke has dealt with the past. And Jesse too, because Brooke isn’t the only one haunted by it.

This was super cute and I thought it was a great read with a sweet romance and even though Brooke’s relationship with her family is mostly in the background, the interactions that are showcased all serve to show why she is that responsible one, the one that worries about things. I really liked Nina Kenwood’s previous novel, It Sounded Better In My Head as well and I feel like she’s an auto-read now.

8/10

Book #189 of 2022

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Review: Our Wives Under The Sea by Julia Armfield

Our Wives Under The Sea
Julia Armfield
Picador
2022, 240p
Read via my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Miri thinks she has got her wife back, when Leah finally returns after a deep-sea mission that ended in catastrophe. It soon becomes clear, though, that Leah is not the same. Whatever happened in that vessel, whatever it was they were supposed to be studying before they were stranded on the ocean floor, Leah has brought part of it back with her, onto dry land and into their home.

Moving through something that only resembles normal life, Miri comes to realize that the life that they had before might be gone. Though Leah is still there, Miri can feel the woman she loves slipping from her grasp.

Our Wives Under The Sea is the debut novel from Julia Armfield, the critically acclaimed author of salt slow. It’s a story of falling in love, loss, grief, and what life there is in the deep deep sea.

Do you ever read a book, get to the end and then think to yourself ‘I have absolutely no idea what happened there?’

Yeah, that was me upon finishing this.

I think I heard about this in a podcast I was listening to and I was super pleased when I searched it up on my library’s database and found it on the shelf. I thought, from the brief amount I heard about it, that it sounded fascinating. I kind of love submarine stuff – I’ve watched a few movies centring around them and a TV show or two but I’ve never really read a book about characters on a submarine. There’s something about that feeling of being trapped under water should anything that go wrong, that lends the creepiest vibe – and in this book, something does indeed go wrong.

The book is told in two sections, alternating viewpoints between Miri and Leah. Miri’s viewpoint is mostly told in the present, after Leah has returned from six months or whatever it was, under the sea when she was only supposed to be gone three weeks. It does flash back to various points during Leah’s missing period but for the most part it deals in the after and what Leah is going through now. The other viewpoint is Leah herself and that is from her perspective during the doomed venture in the submersible – from the moment they realise they’ve lost power and are sinking to the bottom of the sea floor as well as the various incidents that happen during their time out of communication, the weird and the tragic.

I enjoyed the beginning of this – the atmosphere was really well done, Miri’s frustration in the present and her confusion about the weird behaviour that Leah is displaying as well as the frustration at the lack of communication from her workplace as well as the difficulty in contacting them or getting a single straight answer about anything. And Leah’s flashbacks for what happened were also interesting.

But my interest definitely began to wane the further I got into this. After a while the atmosphere and vagueness wasn’t enough for me. Miri is just…frustratingly blasé about the weirdness going on with Leah, her behaviour and strange habits since returning. And I get that okay, she thought she was dead after Leah was only supposed to be gone for six weeks and I’m sure she’s relieved and ecstatic to have her back again….but look, there are severe issues here and a lot of the book just seems to pretend that it isn’t happening or that it’s something that will pass.

I think if you’re the sort of person that is ok, or enjoys ambiguity and is happy to just sink into the aftermath and explore the relationship of the two women whilst almost ignoring the very weird things that’ll happen, this is a book you’ll enjoy. If you want some answers, if you want to know what happened to the submarine and why and understand exactly what is happening….this one is probably not going to be something you fall in love with. And honestly, I fall more into the second camp, if the book is going to set something up and revolve something around it, then I want to know why.

I finished this because it was a short read and I wanted some more answers and it was an easy read. But ultimately, I didn’t love it and I felt like I finished the book with more questions than answers. Some people love that. I have to say that a lot of the writing was quite good and I feel like the information the author chose to convey, she conveyed very well. But I wanted so much more from this in that I think I thought it was going to be a very different type of story than it was. And the ending left me just…..meh. And I don’t think that would’ve all been the intention.

5/10

Book #188 of 2022

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Review: The Boy From Boomerang Crescent by Eddie Betts

The Boy From Boomerang Crescent
Eddie Betts
Simon & Schuster
2022, 304p
Read via my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: It’s a long, hard road from the Nullarbor to the MCG.

How does a self-described ‘skinny Aboriginal kid’ overcome a legacy of family tragedy to become an AFL legend? One thing’s for sure: it’s not easy. But then, there’s always been something special about Eddie Betts.

Betts grew up in Port Lincoln and Kalgoorlie, in environments where the destructive legacies of colonialism – racism, police targeting of Aboriginal people, drug and alcohol misuse, family violence – were sadly normalised. His childhood was defined by family closeness as well as family strife, plus a wonderful freedom that he and his cousins exploited to the full – for better and for worse.

When he made the decision to take his talents across the Nullarbor to Melbourne to chase his footballing dreams – homesickness be damned – everything changed. Over the ensuing years, Betts became a true giant of the sport: 350-plus games, 600-plus goals, multiple All-Australian nods and Goal of the Year awards, and a league-wide popularity rarely seen in the hyper-tribal AFL.

Along the way, he battled his demons before his turbulent youth settled into responsible maturity. Today, the man the Melbourne tabloids once dubbed ‘bad boy Betts’ is a dedicated husband and father, a respected community leader and an increasingly outspoken social activist.

Sometimes funny, sometimes tragic and always honest – often laceratingly so – The Boy from Boomerang Crescent is the inspirational life story of a champion, in his own words. Whether he’s narrating one of his trademark gravity-defying goals from the pocket, the discrimination he’s faced as an Aboriginal person or the birth of his first child, Betts’s voice – intelligent, soulful, unpretentious – rings through on every page.

The very human story behind the plaudits is one that will surprise, move and inspire.

What an amazing person Eddie Betts is.

I’ve never followed any of the teams he played for (Carlton and Adelaide) so I never knew a huge amount about him personally but everyone who has watched their team play him knows what an absolute demon he was on the field. He kicked goals that no one should probably ever kick from ridiculous spots. He always seemed like a very personable kind of guy and I admired him for the public stance he took against racism. I have read a few articles and do remember a few horrid incidents but until reading this, I didn’t know just how much racism he had faced on the field and off. I shouldn’t be surprised, because there has been no shortage of disgusting incidents. I’m a Sydney Swans supporter, Adam Goodes is fresh in my mind and always will be.

This is a refreshing, frank account of a kid who grew up loving footy and wasn’t necessarily motivated to play at the top level at all. He loved playing with his family, his ‘brothers’ and being drafted was somehow something that happened to him rather than something he sought out. He was at times, by his own admittance, lazy in the offseason and didn’t stick to the diet and exercise plans he was given and he is also quite open about the fact that until the second year he played in the AFL, he actually couldn’t read very well, which is partially why he couldn’t stick to the plans – he couldn’t understand them. He was given literacy classes by the AFL which he attended with some other players (I think he noted all of them were of Aboriginal heritage, which is an indication of how Indigenous kids are slipping through the cracks in education).

He’s a super proud Indigenous man who loves his culture and his family and is big into preserving the culture and also, helping other young Indigenous players. He and his wife Anna (who honestly sounds like an equally amazing person) often open their home to young Indigenous players drafted from interstate as he knows how important it is for them to have some of their mob around them to help them adjust to a very different life. It seems like their home is a hub of support for anyone who needs it.

In this he details the highs and the horrible lows: winning goal of the year awards, making a grand final (losing that grand final), the horrific murder of one of his coaches, the ‘development camp’ that ended up being splashed across the media for all the wrong reasons, being separated from his family and playing during a pandemic, being told he wasn’t going to be offered a contract after his final year playing for Carlton and what came after footy. The book is printed directly as he would speak it so it is very much like listening to him telling you his life story. It works, because it showcases all of his personality in the narrative, how he feels at any given moment is so obvious and you can hear/feel the pain when he talks about being racially profiled by police or when someone threw a banana at him or took the time to mail him a letter calling him a racially charged name and you can also feel the joy when he talks about his family: his mother, his aunties, his brothers and cousins, his wife and their children. Eddie and Anna have five children, including twins and it seems like nothing fazes them! They initially struggled with fertility, having treatments to conceive their first two and then when they went for a third, got twins! Their fifth was a complete surprise, discovered when Anna was already over 20 weeks without any treatments at all. You can really feel the ‘more the merrier’ vibe and they happily cart their kids on overseas holidays and give them amazing experiences as well as keeping them grounded in their Indigenous heritage and culture, using Indigenous words and language etc.

I loved this. It was so interesting to learn about his life growing up, how he came to almost have playing in the AFL fall into his lap and all of the stuff he talks about away from footy as well. Incredibly enjoyable.

9/10

Book #187 of 2022

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Review: Angelika Frankenstein Makes Her Match by Sally Thorne

Angelika Frankenstein Makes Her Match
Sally Thorne
Hachette AUS
2022, 354p
Read via my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: For generations, every Frankenstein has found their true love and equal, unlocking lifetimes of blissful wedded adventure. Clever, pretty (and odd) Angelika Frankenstein has run out of suitors and fears she may become the exception to this family rule. When assisting in her brother Victor’s ground-breaking experiment to bring a reassembled man back to life, she realizes that having an agreeable gentleman convalescing in the guest suite might be a chance to let a man get to know the real her. For the first time, Angelika embarks upon a project that is all her own.

When her handsome scientific miracle sits up on the lab table, her hopes for an instant romantic connection are thrown into disarray. Her resurrected beau (named Will for the moment) has total amnesia and is solely focused on uncovering his true identity. Trying to ignore their heart-pounding chemistry, Angelika reluctantly joins the investigation into his past, hoping it will bring them closer. But when a second suitor emerges to aid their quest, Angelika wonders if she was too hasty inventing a solution. Perhaps fate is not something that can be influenced in a laboratory? Or is Will (or whatever his name is!) her dream man, tailored for her in every way? And can he survive what was done to him in the name of science, and love?

I only have myself to blame for this.

I told myself that after the last Sally Thorne novel, Second First Impressions, that obviously whatever it was that had made me love The Hating Game so much, was a one off. And that whatever Thorne was writing post that, had for me, none of its charm and chemistry. I didn’t even like the sound of this from the blurb but I was picking up some holds from my local library one day and I saw it sitting on the new release shelf. Honestly that alone should’ve probably been a clue, that such a new release was so readily available, from an author that had previously produced such a popular book. Curiosity got the better of me and I decided I would give it a look. It is, after all, quite a departure. It’s historical fiction, a sort of re-telling/re-imaging of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein where Victor Frankenstein has a sister named Angelika who is every bit as scientifically clever and brilliant as he is.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing brilliant or clever about this for me. It’s awkward. Angelika and Victor scour the morgue for fresh dead bodies that Angelika likes the look of, because they are building (and re-animating) her a husband. You see, Angelika is a bit ‘not-like-other-girls’ and despite being beautiful, exceedingly rich and clever, she makes men run screaming from her because she’s too eager in her attempts to woo them. She desperately wants a husband and children, especially now that her brother is getting married and another woman will become mistress of the family home. So they are building her one, because he’ll be so grateful she brought him back to life, saved him, that he’ll fall in love with her instantly.

Sure, the scene where they choose a guy because Angelika likes his face but another guy’s absolutely massive d*ck to mix ‘n’ match because haha, why settle for a mediocre one when you can have hung like a horse, the world is her oyster, am I right, is weird AF but the biggest problem for me was that Angelika and Will, her re-animated man with the monster penis, had zero chemistry. In fact, it’s written in such a way that Will’s new appendage really desires Angelika but he himself, the man with the brain, does not want to do physical things, in fact keeps almost trying to run away from her at every opportunity. And she’s so desperate, like she knows nothing about this guy other than she really liked his face – nothing about his past, his history. He’s even possibly married because he was wearing a ring on his finger (but his hands are on someone else now, haha!). Will talks about leaving, about finding out who he was, constantly (he is re-animated with no memory of his former self) and all Angelika can think about is how she’ll be so sad when he leaves even though she’s known him five minutes and dude is a blank slate, because as I mentioned, no memory.

I haven’t read Frankenstein (I own a copy, it’s on my list) but I think most people tend to realise that Frankenstein is the monster, not his creation and I’m not sure this book leans into that at all. Victor, Angelika’s brother, is downright insufferable and his relationship with Lizzie, his fiancee, is I think, supposed to be so cool and liberal and progressive for something written to be set in Victorian England but just comes off as very obnoxious. There’s very little here in terms of responsibility for actions and hey, maybe it’s not the best thing to just be bringing random dead people back to life and expecting them to love you for it? I think we are supposed to think that Angelika is so quirky and lonely because other people just don’t ‘get her’ and Will will get her if he could just try and see what she did for him, like she saved him but yeah, he didn’t ask for this and she had no idea of his life prior to her and honestly, when they do find out Will’s history it actually just makes the whole thing weirder. And explains why he kept running away from her.

I thought the religious aspect of Second First Impressions was weird, but the shoehorning of religious morals and actually just religion in general into the end of this, was incredibly jarring. You could argue that it’s Victorian England, everyone was pretty religious, the Church was a big thing etc but it’s made very clear that the siblings, especially Victor, shun all that and they are modern and believe in science. All the praying and the like at the end, felt like being lectured, like only through this action and by accepting religion and the like, could they get what they all truly want, etc. It was very strange and not at all in keeping with the rest of the book given what the siblings had been doing.

Sometimes you just know what’s best for you and you ignore it anyway. I shouldn’t have read this and now I truly need to just remember how much I love The Hating Game and ignore all that comes after.

I have no rating for this.

Book #186 of 2022

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Review: The Murder Rule by Dervla McTiernan

The Murder Rule
Dervla McTiernan
Harper Collins AUS
2022, 304p
Read via my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: First Rule: Make them like you.

Second Rule: Make them need you.

Third Rule: Make them pay.

They think I’m a young, idealistic law student, that I’m passionate about reforming a corrupt and brutal system.

They think I’m working hard to impress them.

They think I’m here to save an innocent man on death row.

They’re wrong. I’m going to bury him.

This was…..an interesting one.

I’ve had this on my must-read list since it was released. I really love Dervla McTiernan’s three Cormac Reilly crime procedural novels and this one is something completely different and stand alone and I thought it sounded incredibly interesting. I requested it through my local library because I wanted to see if I was going to love it as much as the Reilly books and…well, look, that ended up being a good decision.

The Murder Rule takes place in two timelines – in 2019, we have law student Hannah, who emails the boss of the ‘Innocence Project’ group, run through the University of Virginia which handles miscarriages of justice. She tells him that she knows the places are all filled but she’s transferring there this semester and she think she’ll make an amazing addition to the team. Despite the professor emailing her back saying no, she manages to sort of blackmail? her way onto the team and she begins working with the organisation, sifting through the myriad of applications they get from prisoners asking them to look at their case.

Interspersed are the stories/diary entries from 1995 which are Hannah’s primary motivation for moving down to Virginia and volunteering as part of the Innocence Project. Whilst the Innocence Project are trying to free a man on death row, Hannah moves among them as a mole unbeknownst to them, because she’s there to make sure that man pays for his crimes and that he never sees the light of day.

It’s not that this is bad….it’s just that it requires an awful lot of looking the other way about things. And all fiction requires that to some degree but this one seems to require it more than a lot of others. This is an incredibly highly sought after volunteer position for those enrolled in law at University of Virginia, honestly the idea that Hannah could just randomly email the guy running it after the deadline and be like ‘well you need me!’ feels…..incredibly unlikely to pay off. There’s a sort of attempt at justification for her inclusion but for me, it wasn’t very strong. And that thread continues throughout the book right until the payoff at the end, which for me, was like Dervla McTiernan watched Legally Blonde one night and went…. “ok, but make it gritty”.

I think the problem for me is that most of this is so benign and nothing much is happening that you’re always looking for the twist, you’re waiting for it to come, because if it doesn’t then why else does this book exist. And when it does come (and there are a couple, one of which I’ll admit that I didn’t see coming), because I was always looking for the thing that was going to happen, knowing something was going to happen, that there was going to be some big dramatic reveal that would flip everything upside down, I think it lessened the impact when it did happen.

Also, Hannah. I’m not sure she carried this well enough for me. I am not sure if it was a deliberate tactic but we’re told almost nothing about her. She’s third year law in Maine or somewhere (this is the source of some amusement to the professor who is in charge of the Innocence Project, I assume Maine is low down the list for post-grad law schools) but we know almost nothing else about her except that she’s motivated to keep this one particular criminal in prison, for personal reasons. Because we know so little, sometimes it makes it difficult to grasp her being able to do the things that she does in the book, there’s nothing remarkable about her as such, she really does’t seem like she’s an outstanding student and she does prove she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead, including basically ruin the lives of innocent bystanders and then she keeps managing to put together things that other people do not. I get she has information (kind of?) that others do not but ironically she’s the only person who seems to firmly believe that the prisoner is guilty and should never be released.

This was readable and I did enjoy it but I didn’t love it. And I think that unfortunately, it’s the sort of book that doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny, the more you think about it the more you realise it crosses the line of unbelievability and it also seems to happen so quickly. They find these people that no one has been able to find for a decade and there are so few genuine obstacles in their path. A bunch of college kids beating lawyers and cops at their own game. And I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, just that the way in which it happens felt a little too easy for me.

6/10

Book #185 of 2022

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Review: Desire: A Reckoning by Jessie Cole

Desire: A Reckoning
Jessie Cole
Text Publishing
2022, 272p
Read via my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: What to do with the intensity of longing that occasionally arises? Sometimes I hug my pup so hard he growls. When my pup growls, I realise I need to find some other way of letting off steam. It’s easy to imagine I could just touch myself and be done with it, but no matter how many times I make myself come, that feeling of wanting doesn’t subside. A friend has a term for the need for touch—‘skin hungry’. Lots of people live without sex, but I find it a kind of deprivation.

What does it mean to be awakened? To want? To love? Jessie Cole is in her late thirties when she meets a man twenty years older than she is. They become lovers. Both passionate and companionable, fraught and uneven, their relationship tests her fears and anxieties. Through their interstate affair, through bushfires and the pandemic, she learns about herself, how her initiations into womanhood shaped who she is now, and how the shadow of family trauma still inhabits her body.

Jessie Cole has written an unabashed, thrilling exploration of the very nature of desire, a story about vulnerability and strength, loss and regeneration. A memoir of the body, Desire is a visceral book in which feeling and longing are laid bare.

I’ve been reading Jessie Cole’s books for…..about ten years now. I don’t even remember how I discovered them but so much about them has stuck with me over the years. Particularly her last book, a memoir about navigating the devastation of suicide in her family. I read that one over four years ago now and the rawness of the writing has stayed with me. I didn’t actually know about this book until just recently, after it was published and it’s another memoir, although this one is very much a memoir of adulthood.

It takes things that I don’t think I cannot even comprehend, to bare yourself in the way writers of memoirs do. To open up your pain and joy, your your experiences good and bad in life, for others to read. In many cases it is offering up the most intimate of information to strangers, including like in this one, your relationship with sex.

But although this book explores in quite intricate detail, Cole’s relationship with her body, sex and a long-distance relationship, it is also so much more than that. Her first memoir detailed her childhood growing up in the forest and now she’s an adult still living in the forest in a house that sounds honestly, unbelievable! A house that seems part of the forest and therefore, all the dangers that come with it. I think most will agree that the last few years have been a rollercoaster ride for most people and I remember the fires of 2019 vividly, because where I grew up and my family still live, were surrounded by them from about September on. That fire season was brutal but this year has been brutal in a very different way: flooding. There are areas that have flooded multiple times this year, including up and around the part of the state where Jessie Cole lives. This book deals with the threat of both fire and flood and the ways in which you are vulnerable to the whims of the weather patterns in ways that I think everyone can relate to at the moment, no matter where you live. We are currently in the middle of such a huge rainy season – well to be honest it’s more like a rainy year, and where I am there hasn’t actually been floods so I can’t imagine what it is like for people to watch their houses go under even once, let alone multiple times.

But as I mentioned, a lot of the book details with Cole exploring her complex feelings relating to sexual relationships and her own body. She details her first teen relationship and how she became a young mother, including an incredibly terrifying birth experience where I feel Cole nails the disconnect that can happen during childbirth, how you can be there but also not there in terms of understanding something. There’s details of break ups and other relationships before her meeting a man quite a bit older than her when she is in her late 30s. He lives in another city that seems quite far away and their relationship is limited to times one of them can take time to visit the other (mostly Cole, who seems to do around 95% of the work). I think there are moments in this connection that people will relate to as well, the push-pull factor, is he interested, is this going to happen, what does it mean, can we make this work etc. No matter your age you are vulnerable every time you step into something with someone new and Cole lays every single piece of that bare in this book, every thought of insecurity and worry, detailing how her body tends to betray her with anxiety at the thought of a new sexual relationship. I could relate to that deep anxiety and overthinking of things, although I don’t get the sort of physical response that she does, I get a huge anxiety response to certain new situations and meetings etc that makes me nauseous to the point of being incapable of doing anything. If I were ever not married anymore, I suspect I’d live the rest of my life alone probably. I’d never attempt to date or have a relationship in 2022 and beyond.

Once again, the writing in this book is just so vivid and beautiful, so raw and honest but also so intimate as well. When I read this, I felt like I was sitting down listening to her speak, having a conversation almost, about her life and her thoughts and feelings on different things. There’s just such a connect and so much I found relatable even in circumstances that are quite different to mine. Some experiences transcend that and there was a lot in this book where I was like ok, yes I feel that, it’s so comforting to know that someone else does too.

A new Jessie Cole book is always a pleasurable reading experience, and this one was no exception. I really will have to buy a copy so that it can join all the others on my shelf.

8/10

Book #182 of 2022

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Review: The Seven Skins of Esther Wilding by Holly Ringland

The Seven Skins Of Esther Wilding
Holly Ringland
Harper Collins AUS
2022, 568p
Purchased personal copy‘On the afternoon that Esther Wilding drove homeward along the coast, a year after her sister had walked into the sea and disappeared, the light was painfully golden.’

The last time Esther Wilding’s beloved older sister Aura was seen, she was walking along the shore towards the sea. In the wake of Aura’s disappearance, Esther’s family struggles to live with their loss. To seek the truth about her sister’s death, Esther reluctantly travels from lutruwita, Tasmania to Copenhagen, and then to the Faroe Islands, following the trail of the stories Aura left behind: seven fairy tales about selkies, swans and women, alongside cryptic verses Aura wrote and had secretly tattooed on her body.

The Seven Skins of Esther Wilding is a sweeping, deeply beautiful and profoundly moving novel about the far-reaches of sisterly love, the power of wearing your heart on your skin, and the ways life can transform when we find the courage to feel the fullness of both grief and joy.

This was a really anticipated book for me – The Lost Flowers Of Alice Hart was my favourite book the year it was published and I was so excited to read another Holly Ringland book. Her writing is so wonderful and full of magic and the way she sets the reader in a scene is second to none. I knew that for me, it’d be really hard to live up to how much I loved that book.

I enjoyed this – once again it’s reminiscent of the same magic of nature and story that permeated the writer’s first book. Esther is grieving her beloved sister, who disappeared a year ago, presumed drowned, after last being seen on the beach. For the months before that, since returning from a study abroad in Copenhagen, Aura had been a shell of her former self, refusing Esther’s overtures, keeping everything locked inside. Now that she’s gone, Esther and her parents are trapped in a cycle of grief and shock and it’s distanced them all from each other. Her parents ask her to travel in Aura’s footsteps armed with her diary, which they are sure tells her story. At first Esther isn’t interested in this journey but she ends up agreeing and finds herself exploring Copenhagen and the Faroe Islands, looking for the clues that make up Aura.

There was a lot that I found so interesting – all the myths and the words Aura had chosen were fascinating and I loved Esther’s trip to Copenhagen and to the Faroe Islands. I’ve read very little set in Copenhagen and I don’t think I’ve ever visited the Faroe Islands in fiction before, so it was wonderful to visit a new place and experience a new destination through reading. I also understood Esther’s feelings of reluctance to be “used” in a way, as a tool to get answers for Aura – she feels quite upset by the way her parents go about it and I get it. I also get their desperation too, because it seems she’s been pretty absent since Aura disappeared and maybe it’s a last ditch effort to reconnect with her. Esther has a pretty complicated relationship with her mother, who she always feels favoured Aura. Freya, Aura and Esther’s mother is a tattoo artist who specialises in covering up scarring (like the sort you might get from a double mastectomy, for example) and that idea was so wonderful. But Freya as a character was a mystery to me, she spends most of the time locked away in her studio and a lot of the issues Esther has felt resolved with unlikely swiftness.

There were elements of the story that I didn’t really connect with and honestly, one that made me a little uncomfortable. I could see it happening from the first interaction and I remember thinking ‘please, not this. Surprise me and do something different’ because the idea of it just…didn’t sit well with me. For lots of reasons. And I didn’t feel like it was all executed in a way that made me ‘get it’. In fact it made me even more against the idea, because it felt like a 2.0. I struggled with Esther’s actions at times – I know her grief is violent and all consuming but there are some times when she really shows a lack of consideration to other people, especially people who are helping her and honestly, girl needs some help with that alcohol problem. Also the book felt a bit unnecessarily long for me, there’s a time in the Faroe Islands where it just drags and it could’ve been rich with description and connection but it’s just people avoiding the conversation they need to have and weeks pass and then all of a sudden every piece of information Esther needs to solve the puzzle of Aura, falls into her lap.

I liked this and I could see the beauty in the story and the research seems incredible and it’s so interesting. But there wasn’t a moment where I clicked with it and truly fell in love with the story and the characters.

7/10

Book #180 of 2022

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