All The Books I Can Read

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Joint Review: The Silk House by Kayte Nunn

The Silk House 
Kayte Nunn
Hachette AUS
2020, 384p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Australian history teacher Thea Rust arrives at an exclusive boarding school in the British countryside only to find that she is to look after the first intake of girls in its 150-year history. She is to stay with them in Silk House, a building with a long and troubled past, where the shadows hide more mysteries than she could ever imagine.

In the late 1700s, Rowan Caswell leaves her village to work in the home of an English silk merchant. She is thrust into a new and dangerous world where her talent for herbs and healing soon attracts attention.

In London, Mary-Louise Stephenson lives amid the clatter of the weaving trade and dreams of becoming a silk designer, a job that is the domain of men. Arriving in the market town of Oxleigh, she brings with her a length of fabric woven with a pattern of deadly plants that will have far-reaching consequences for all who dwell in the silk house.

My fellow blogger friend Marg, from The Intrepid Reader and I have quite similar tastes in books. We have read and loved a lot of the same ones and are frequently discussing books, recommending them to each other and in the past, we have often reviewed books together, hosting 2 part discussions. We haven’t done that for a while but seeing as we both read this title almost at the same time, we thought we’d revive it! Marg has the first part of the discussion and I’m hosting the second part. So pop over to her blog first and read that one before you read this one here.

Marg’s thoughts are in black and mine are in purple.

M: I could actually quite relate to that aspect of the story because in my final year of high school I went to a school that was all boys until that last year when about 20 girls were allowed.800 boys ranging in age from 5 to 18, and 17 or 18 year old girls.  What could go wrong. I don’t know how long that arrangement lasted for. It was for a while before I started but they don’t do it anymore!

To be honest I thought that there was probably more that could have been used in the story. Instead the uncomfortableness around this kind of change was only really touched on, and even then it was in relation to the other teachers and staff in the school and not so much with the students.

The main character in the modern time line is Thea Rust. She is a former junior Australian hockey player who is now a teacher and hockey coach.  She has chosen to come to the school  for a number of reasons. The first is because this is the school that shaped her father’s life very strongly when he was a student there and she is hoping that being there might help her with dealing with his death. The second is that she needs to continue working on her history major, and she is hoping that this will be much easier in England compared to being based in Australia.

It isn’t long after her arrival that she began to notice strange things about the house – doors slamming, little piles of dirt on her floor, things not being left where she left them, that kind of thing.

Thea was thrilled when she learned that the Silk House is going to be her home, with it’s long and colourful history that she began to research. The house is definitely a character in the modern part of the story, which is something I love in these dual timeline type books, often because of the secrets held within the walls.

How did you feel about the secrets that this house held, it’s history and how it impacted Thea and the students who lived in the house with her?

 

B: I didn’t go to a boarding school but I did live on campus at a university in a residential hall, which feels similar. I lived in a building known as “A-Block” which was separated by a football field sized paddock, from the other university residential halls, which kind of led to us being socially insular. There were 3 floors, sixteen rooms to a floor. Look, for the first semester it was a fun experience. We were all between the ages of 18-25, a lot of us were experiencing freedom for the first time (which probably is the biggest difference to a boarding school). But after that? It began to wear quite thin, especially when you had an exam at 9am but the rest of your floor is running around drunk at 3am, trying to get a shopping trolley up 2 flights of stairs for reasons known to precisely no one. Like you, I think that the school setting could have been utilised more. Thea makes an effort to connect with the girls she is responsible for and there are some brief mentions of her having to be in class, or helping with a hockey practice but overall, the school wasn’t as much a presence in the story as I expected.

It’s definitely more about Silk House, which is mysterious from the very beginning. As you said, Thea notices strange happenings – a piano being played in the night, her belongings not being where they left them, etc. Now….normally I’m actually not really a fan of things that appear supernatural…..it has to be done in a certain way for me to enjoy it. But I did find this very intriguing. The way that it skips back and forth, constructing the happenings of the past and then bringing you back to the present so you can see the links slowly being established between what happened all those years ago and what Thea comes to realise she is experiencing, was very well done. 

I did not expect all of the secrets that the house reveals…..I actually did have inklings of one, it was just beginning to click together in my mind when Thea suddenly comes to the same realisation. But there’s another, I would say more shocking-type reveal that I did not expect but it worked really well for the story, it tied everything together and made all of Thea’s experiences suddenly make sense. 

This is not really a romance novel, but towards the end, Thea connects with another character in a way that seems promising. How did you feel about this plot development?

 

M: To be honest, that actually felt a bit under developed for me. It either needed to be a stronger thread introduced earlier and explored more or not there at all!

What did you think? And what did you think of the book overall. I gave it a rating of ⅘ and I intend to go back and read the authors other books now.

 

B: I tend to agree – I thought it was also a bit underdeveloped and there were things that were not really adequately explained after some early interactions. I definitely think it could’ve been a larger part of the novel, even just an extra scene or two would’ve really added to the overall development, I think. 

Overall? I really enjoyed the story. Both the present day, with Thea exploring her relationship with her father through her desire to work at the school and also the historical timeline with Rowan and her position in the Silk House as well as Mary Louise and her quest to be recognised for her designs at a time when it wasn’t believed women could do such things. The book took me on some unexpected twists and turns and I thought that Kayte Nunn did an excellent job conveying the atmosphere of a house with so much history. 

I gave this an 8/10 (⅘ on GR) – a wonderfully solid read. And yes, you should definitely go back and read her previous novels, they are excellent!

Book #118 of 2020

The Silk House is book #41 of my participation in the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

 

 

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Joint Review: Just One Year – Gayle Forman

Just One YearJust One Year (Just One Day #2)
Gayle Forman
Definitions Publishing (Random House UK)
2013, 323p
Read from my local library

The following is a joint review between myself and Marg from Adventures of an Intrepid Reader. I have the first part of the conversation and Marg has the second part. My thoughts are in blue and Marg’s are in red.

B: Gayle Forman is an author who needs no introduction to YA fans. Her novels If I Stay and it’s follow up/companion Where She Went have left sobbing fans in their wake as people fell under Forman’s emotional spell. If I Stay is also soon to be a feature film and I think it’ll be interesting to see what they do with it for the big screen. Forman has moved on though, with her novel Just One Day released last year and its companion Just One Year. I read Just One Day about a year ago but I have to admit, I didn’t rush to read Just One Year. However I recently read a review of it that made me remember about it and I decided it was time to find out what happened between Willem and Allyson and experience Willem’s point of view. I’m just going to jump right in here Marg – was Just One Year the story you expected it to be?

M: It was the story I expected it to be but it was also more. When reading Just One Day, it was clear that Willem was meant to be somewhat enigmatic in terms of his character and so what I really wanted was the explanation of why he behaved the way he did and how did he end up where he was. After all, he was 21 years old, living a somewhat nomadic lifestyle, and even then we knew that from a girl perspective he was very much a one night stand kind of guy.

Did you feel as though the who and why of Willem was sufficiently explained?

 

B: In a way yes and in a way no. Essentially I wanted two things from this story – Willem’s point of view in Paris and what happened after Allyson knocked on his door at the end of Just One Day. I understand why we didn’t get a lot of Paris and how it only came to him later in fragments and bits and pieces. And even though that disappointed me, I understand that a lot of that story had already been told and Forman obviously didn’t want to repeat herself or backtrack the story. However without his point of view on it, I really didn’t feel the intensity or his interest in finding Allyson/Lulu, which he goes all the way to Mexico to do, because she mentioned she goes there with her family for spring break. I found it difficult to warm to Willem, even in Just One Day and I’m not sure this book really helped me see much more from his point of view. It became a blur of girls and locations. My favourite part of the book was Willem’s trip to India (not the Bollywood stuff but the conversations where he finally manages to connect with his mother after basically his entire life). In fact that might be the only part of the novel that I really enjoyed.

 

M: Ouch. I think I must of enjoyed it more than you then. I agree that there was definitely a blur of locations and girls but at least the way that Willem could have afforded to go to Mexico and India and lots of other places in between was explained reasonably, which doesn’t necessarily always happen in YA.

I really wondered if I had of enjoyed this book more if I had read Just One Day more recently. As it was there has been more than a year. I found myself trying to remember where Allyson was at exactly that point in the year. For example, as you mentioned Willem goes all the way to Mexico in his efforts to track Allyson down. I vaguely remembered there was something about the family going to Mexico and I couldn’t quite remember Allyson’s story at that time. Were they unknowingly within shouting distance of each other at that and other stages of the book. Having reread Just One Day would have helped with that.

Did you end up skimming the first book before you read this, or did you go into this relying on what you could remember from when you read it last year?

 

 

B: I read my review because I couldn’t find Just One Day at first look (of course it turned up pretty much the second I finished Just One Year) and I found that things came back to me as I read but I probably should have tried to skim JOD just to read Allyson and Willem together because there’s certainly not a lot of that here. I’d say that ultimately you did enjoy it a lot more than me and perhaps that’s because you’ve travelled and you’re familiar with some of these places. I’m not and because I was looking for things that weren’t there, what was left wasn’t really that interesting to me. I found Willem not exciting enough to carry the whole book – so much was made of how hot he was and how much of a manwhore he was and it got a bit boring after a while, girls tripping over themselves to be with him. I feel as though Willem’s amnesia stunted the book a little and for me, it didn’t really recover from there. It was always lagging behind – and of course part of that is my own fault, my preconceptions and wants. For me there was none of the emotion and beauty of IIS and WSW.

 

M: If I was going to suggest Forman books to read I would definitely start with If I Stay and Where She Went because I think they work better as a duology and as individual books,. I do think that there were things to like about both of these book too though. A big part of the like for me is the travel and adventure, but I think the thing I liked  most about this book was actually Willem’s growth. He definitely started off being kind of two dimensional (hot and um, hot) but along the way through Just One Year I felt as though we did get to see some development of emotional maturity. One example is the relationship with his mother which I doubt will ever be overly strong but he understands her more now and the way that she is capable of showing her love. Other ways I thought was the way that Willem was able to get some direction in terms of his acting and the way he started to value more of his own past. I really think that we needed to see that emotional growth to be able to believe that he would be ready for that inevitable moment when Allyson knocked on his door.

 

Jump on over to Marg’s blog and read the rest of our conversation….here!

For me, Just One Year was book #71 of 2014

And a 6/10 read

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Me Before You – Jojo Moyes

Me Before You
Jojo Moyes
Penguin AU
2012, 481p
Read from my Mt TBR Pile of Doom

I bought a Jojo Moyes book some time ago but never quite got around to reading it. My friend Marg from Adventures Of An Intrepid Reader gushed about her book The Last Letter From Your Lover and then this one came out. Danielle over at ALPHA Reader gave it a glowing review and I knew Marg had also read it recently as well. So I settled down over the weekend to give it a go and once I’d finished I was discussing it with Marg, who said she hadn’t gotten around to writing a review for it herself yet. So we decided to do another of our discussion reviews where we talk about how we found the book and a few key plot points or character issues. I’m hosting the first part of the discussion and Marg will have the conclusion today.

M: I am not really sure where to start with this book, other than to say what a fabulous book it was! Also, I really want to give kudos to the people who wrote the copy blurb for this book because whilst you do know what the book is about, you don’t really know what the book is ABOUT if you get what I mean!

B: I agree. It is the most amazing book – it’s fantastic. It sounds like I’m gushing (and I am!) but it has to be said. The blurb is just such a tiny, tiny part of what people are going to get when they read this book. A young woman who has just lost her job and a former dynamic corporate type now confined to a wheelchair – their lives are about to collide. That is barely scraping the tip of the iceberg really. I really want to talk about the characters, because they’re given such depth! What did you think of Lou and Will?

M: You couldn’t help but like both Lou and Will! They both had an incredible journey to take emotionally and they happened to meet each other right when they needed each other. Having said that, the way that Jojo Moyes built their characters up right from the beginning was really great.

At first, when we meet Lou, I thought that we had met characters like her before – the quirkily dressed, quirky character with a heart of gold. It turned out that hidden not too far below that exterior, there was a girl who was struggling to help prop her family up financially, who had never left her home town, who was hiding a terrible secret about her past that had affected her emotionally ever since it happened, and who was in effect stuck in the past. And let’s not talk about her relationship with her boyfriend!

I really felt for Lou’s family. They were a family who have always just got by, facing whatever challenges that life through at them, never really getting ahead. Now, with the economic recession biting, with Lou losing her job in the cafe after 7 years and Lou’s sister looking to improve her lot in life, it looks as though the financial situation for the whole family is just about to get a lot worse.

I must confess that I had to laugh when I was reading about Lou’s room in the family home. When I first moved to the UK, I was lodging with a family that were friends of a friend and I was staying in a room that I imagine was about the same size. There was a single bed and maybe a foot at the end of the bed to the outward opening door, there was a dressing table with a TV and a wardrobe and maybe a foot between them and the bed and that was it! Bought back memories.

B: I loved Lou and I quite agree that Moyes took a somewhat stereotypical ‘quirky’ girl and gave her so much more depth of character. Her vulnerability and that she was so stagnant in life, trapped into supporting her family when really she should’ve been out living her life made me very sympathetic to her. I didn’t like her family quite so much as you, though. At times they were quite unfair to Lou and I felt for her. (I didn’t say I liked them, as I think they helped to keep her tied down to them but I did feel for them as a family!)

It wasn’t hard to find sympathy for Will either. Prior to his accident, which was through no fault of his own, he was the sort of guy who climbed mountains! He was a go-getter, a do-er, not really a thinker and to be rendered a quadriplegic must’ve just been unimaginably devastating for him. I didn’t realise just how difficult it must be to live with an injury like Will’s. My knowledge of people with such injuries is limited to TV and fiction where characters are downcast for a while and then embrace their new restrictions and play paraplegic basketball for the Olympics, or something. Will lived with undeniable pain and suffering every single day. He couldn’t do anything for himself and had to submit to humiliating rituals just to be fed or cleaned. I can understand his taciturn nature in the beginning. I think I’d hate the world quite a lot if I were Will Traynor also.

What I liked was this was more than just “sassy village girl is rude back to rude quadriplegic man and they find understanding”. It’s so much deeper than that. Their relationship is full of the most amazing highs and lows, all the way through right until the very end. They have moments where they connect a little bit and then the next day something happens that sets them back and the process almost begins all over again.

M: I could only think what I would be like if I was in Will’s place, and I am pretty sure I would be a pretty sullen cow too. He had gone from having an amazing lifestyle to having very little dignity, not even the right to make a decision about his own future. He had decided what he wanted, but his family was struggling to accept his wishes.

Will’s mother had forced him into accepting having a companion for six months and that is what had bought Lou into the equation. Will already has a carer, Nathan, who takes care of most of the medical and personal care, but Mrs Traynor is hoping that by employing someone like Lou, she can help shake Will out of his emotional blackhole.

In many ways, I think that Lou did manage to do that, but it didn’t have the result that Mrs Traynor ultimately wanted. There was also a lot of tension between the individual family members, and with Lou as they all struggled with how to deal with what was, at its heart, a tragedy that impacted on all of their lives.

You would have thought that there would have been more than enough drama for the characters to deal with, but Moyes continued to add more and more layers of complexity to the story by doing things like bringing Will’s old girlfriend into the story, and by expanding on the marital difficulties that faced his parents. She also managed to add those additional layers to Lou’s own story by expanding her horizons with Will’s help, having her face her past and to be a bit more assertive in dealing with her family, particularly her sister.

****

This ends my part of the review – pop over to Marg’s blog and read the rest of the post here.

Book #78 of 2012

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The Fault In Our Stars – John Green

The Fault In Our Stars
John Green
Penguin AU
2012, 313p
Read from my Mount TBR pile of doom!


Hazel was diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 12. She was given very little time left and was well prepared to die until a medical miracle changed things when she was 14. Now, thank to a drug that keeps the tumours in her lungs from growing (but hasn’t changed her diagnosis) she’s on borrowed time.

Now Hazel is 16 and forced by her mother to ‘live life’ and get out there, attending a therapy group for kids with cancer. She meets Augustus Waters, former victim of osteosarcoma (bone cancer) and sporting a prosthetic leg. To Hazel’s shock, Augustus is interested in her. Originally staying at a distance because her diagnosis is terminal, Hazel is slowly won over by Augustus’ charm and persistence.

I read The Fault In Our Stars with Marg from over at Adventures of an Intrepid Reader and we have decided to do a joint review. I’ll be presenting the first part! Marg’s thoughts are in BOLD and mine are in ITALICS.

M: So, let’s start with the most important question. Did you cry?

B: Yes, yes I did. BUT I do have to admit that it wasn’t the ugly sobbing that I envisioned. I teared up a few times and also took a break at one stage in the book because I needed a little time before I continued. But….my crying was around the last 50p. It definitely wasn’t something that occurred throughout the story. How about you?

M: It wasn’t ugly, sobbing crying for me either. It was more a cleansing Sunday morning cry! This was my first John Green book and I have to admit my expectations were high. Have you read John Green before? If yes, how did this book stacked up against his previous books and if not, did it meet your expectations given how popular he is around the book blogosphere?

B: This is my first John Green read too. Shameful, apparently! Although I do admit I once checked out ‘Looking For Alaska’ from the library and never got around to actually reading it. He does seem to be universally beloved, especially in the book-blogging world! I did have pretty high expectations because of this and I don’t think I was disappointed. It was an emotional, heartfelt story that was well written, although I must say, not entirely unpredictable.

Out of curiosity, who, if anyone, did you identify with in the book?

M: I am not sure if I identified as such with either of the two main characters. Probably the closest I came to it would be with Hazel’s parents. I wondered if maybe if that is because my own son is around 13 years old. It was hard to look at my own son and wonder how heartbreaking it would be if he was suddenly given a death sentence.

Did you identify with anyone?

B: Interesting! That’s actually why I asked, because we’re both parents and I wanted to see if we had the same reaction. I also identified with Hazel’s parents. I read part of this novel while I was feeding Rory (my 5 month old) and I couldn’t help but put myself in their shoes. I looked at Rory and started crying because I couldn’t even begin to imagine the sort of pain and heartbreak that would come from that sort of diagnosis and even just glossing over it in my mind upset me enormously. And although I am probably too old and too removed from being a teen to identify with either Hazel or Augustus I found it so easy to identify with Hazel’s parents. Their pain, their dedication to Hazel, their hope and wanting her to live life to the full every day and yet protect her from things as well. And that I thought, was very well written.

Speaking of Hazel and Augustus, how did you find them?

M: I liked them both, but I must confess that Augustus did grab a little bit of my heart and didn’t let go! It was interesting to read Hazel when you consider that she had basically been outside of her peer group for so long. At times they both seemed too clever,too mature….too much, but I have a feeling that this might be trademark John Green characterisation from what I have seen of reviews of his other books.

One thing that I couldn’t go without commenting on was the bravery and fortitude that Hazel, Augustus and also their friend Isaac (who lost his sight to cancer in the very beginning of the book) faced their illnesses, along with their friends and family. Of course, if they were all real people, they would have no choice to bear their burden but the idea of being able to do so with such grace and humour is inspiring.

Did you like the way they were portrayed?

B: I agree that they’re very precocious and I’ve read that cancer-afflicted children are often this way both in books and apparently real life. I’m not sure if that’s being faced with their own mortality, having to grow up too fast, maybe having to cram a lifetime of living into way less than a lifetime etc. But they were often very witty and smart and sometimes I was like, what?

But I liked them, particularly Hazel. I did enjoy her, especially the way she felt about the support group meeting in the Literal Heart of Jesus (love LOVE that a joke was made of the false use of literally). I thought Augustus was very cute, but a little OTT at times. And some of the secondary characters, such as Isaac whom you mentioned, were amazingly well done.

Here ends my part of the review… Pop over to Marg’s and see the rest. For me though, it was:

9/10

Book #38 of 2012

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Deep In The Valley – Robyn Carr

In May or so of 2011, Marg over at Adventures of an Intrepid Reader introduced me to the Virgin River novels by Robyn Carr. There’s quite a few in the series so far and I think I read about 15 of them between May and December. There’s something rather addictive about them.

Marg picked up this book, Deep In The Valley through Inter-Library Loan and passed it onto me before the due date so that I could read it too. We agreed to do a joint review discussion on it – the first part is over at Marg’s blog here and I’m hosting the second part. My thoughts are in italics and Marg’s are red!

B: Right so basically we’re in a tiny town, which June grew up in. She’s the daughter of a doctor and now she’s the doctor herself, doing all manner of things from delivering babies to fixing up local marijuana growers suspicious looking wounds. As always, there is a woman in distress that the whole town pitches in to assist get back on her feet, a pastor with busy hands that the town is fed up with and an undercover DEA guy who has ‘love interest’ all over him. And June has hired a ‘city bloke’ to help her with the general doctoring but is skeptical about him lasting.For me the story was just -okay-. Nothing really stood out, perhaps because I felt like I’d read some of it before. I thought the romance was very underdone! I’m used to more interaction and more scenes between the two love interests! That was disappointing to me because I was quite excited about the whole undercover DEA agent thing. I thought it had some potential for some great scenes, maybe some angst and some tension….but there were depressingly few scenes, very little tension and no angst. Of course given this is a trilogy, that may come later, but things were both very easy and very light on in that department so far.I did rather like the city doctor who moved to Grace Valley, I thought he was an interesting character and the reveal of his background was done well, despite June’s totally lazy attitude towards checking his references! I also liked the town rallying to help Leah, the victim of domestic violence, get her life back on track because that’s such a typical Robyn Carr staple. Although that plot thread wasn’t without its issues either, such as the ridiculously unbelievable court case at the end. Did anything in the story stand out for you? Did it strike a better chord with you than with me?
M: Not really. This is probably the most disappointing read for me by Carr. It was the usual easy read but without the addictiveness of the usual Virgin River reading experience. Having said that, the completist in me couldn’t resist reading the next book in the series already.

Did you like any of the characters in particular, or was there one of the storylines that stood out for good or bad reasons? (Spoilers Ahoy!)There was one thread that left me shaking my head in particular and that was in relation to a young woman named Justine who was involved with the town minister who happened to be married. There was lots of drama relating to that particular issue which was fine. Even with the fact that she ended up be suffering cancer and not pregnant as she thought was fine. However, the closing scene of the book was Justine marrying a much, much older man. That relationship just seemed to come completely out of nowhere!

B: Not just older, but ….older. Wasn’t he in his late 70s? And Justine was 25 or so? That whole story left me with an icky feeling. Firstly yes, Justine was having an affair with the town sleaze, the pastor of all people, who tried it on with everything female in a 100km radius. Despite the fact that his wife was obviously suspicious of him, they took the moral high ground when the story of Justine suspecting her pregnancy came out, accusing the small town of running them off. Sam, the man Justine ended up marrying, stepped in to support her and although it turned out she wasn’t pregnant, they still ended up marrying randomly at the end of the book. Given you’ve read the next one, do they reappear? I’m curious….

M: Yes, they reappear. Most of the characters too. The second book is better, although I am pretty sure that there are a couple of things that will push your buttons!

B: I liked Jim (the undercover DEA agent) when he first appeared but I think it was far too obvious who he was and the reveal was done without any real tension. I might’ve found it a lot more interesting if June had really found herself attracted to someone that she thought was shady! Instead she pegs him as law enforcement so quickly that it’s laughable! Apart from that, no one really stood out for me. In fact if I had to think of a word that describes everything about this book, it’d (unfortunately) be average. Average writing, characters, plots, etc.

M: So, if we were to summarise, then the overwhelming reaction to this book is…it’s not Virgin River even though it does look a heck of a lot like it?

B: I can’t believe it’s not Virgin River! But yes…basically you’re right. It looks similar on the outside but it’s kind of like the poor man’s version on the inside. There’s a lot more to like in the VR books.

6/10 for me

Book #202 of 2011

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