All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

What I Read On My Holiday, Part 3

Husband Material
Alexis Hall
Sourcebooks Casablanca
2022, 432p
Read via my local library/Libby

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Wanted: 
One (very real) husband
Nowhere near perfect but desperately trying his best

In BOYFRIEND MATERIAL, Luc and Oliver met, pretended to fall in love, fell in love for real, dealt with heartbreak and disappointment and family and friends…and somehow figured out a way to make it work. Now it seems like everyone around them is getting married, and Luc’s feeling the social pressure to propose. But it’ll take more than four weddings, a funeral, and a bowl full of special curry to get these two from I don’t know what I’m doing to I do.

Good thing Oliver is such perfect HUSBAND MATERIAL.

This Summer 2022, you’re invited to the event(s) of the season.

I really enjoyed Boyfriend Material. It’s actually been by far my most favourite of Alexis Hall’s novels. I love opposites attract and Luc’s general brand of chaotic shitshow and Oliver’s kind of uptight manner are like my kryptonite. I was looking forward to more from them.

For the most part, I really enjoyed this. It was funny, with all the things that made me laugh from the first book and the added sweetness of Luc and Oliver being in a proper relationship which is going well. Then they get engaged and everything kind of….goes downhill there as the stress of the wedding and what it means begins to take its toll.

For me, the late conflict was poor – in its introduction, its timing and its resolution. It almost made me feel like reading the book was kind of a waste of time, it undid almost everything and look they were probably better off for it in the end I guess, as they didn’t need the development. But…it seemed like a long, arduous and ultimately pointless way to get there.

6/10

Book #159 of 2022

The Couple At No. 9
Claire Douglas
Penguin
2021, 400p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: It was the house of their dreams. Until the bodies were found . . . 

BODIES FOUND UNDER PATIO

When pregnant Saffron Cutler moves into 9 Skelton Place with boyfriend Tom and sets about renovations the last thing she expects is builders uncovering a body – two bodies, in fact.

POLICE INVESTIGATE

Forensics indicate the bodies have been buried at least thirty years. Nothing Saffy need worry herself over. Until the police launch a murder investigation and ask to speak to the cottage’s former owner – her grandmother, Rose.

OWNER QUESTIONED

Rose is in a care home and Alzheimer’s means her memory is increasingly confused. She can’t help the police but it is clear she remembers something.

A KILLER AT LARGE?

As Rose’s fragmented memories resurface, and the police dig ever deeper, Saffy fears she and the cottage are being watched.

What happened thirty years ago?

Why did no one miss the victims?

What part did her grandmother play?

And is Saffy now in danger?

I think I heard about this as a sponsor piece in a bookish podcast I was listening to and it sounded really interesting and when I looked it up on Amazon, the kindle version was only $3.99. So it was one of the few books I read whilst away that I’d bought, rather than borrowed from the library or from Kindle Unlimited.

I started this on the plane but only read about 25% of it because I had only gotten 2 hours sleep the night before and was so tired. I didn’t end up picking it back up until almost a week later, on the beach and it took no time to sink right back into the story. Saffy and Tom are a young couple, who have escaped the prices of London to a cottage given to them by Saffy’s mother that belonged to her mother, Saffy’s grandmother. Living abroad means Saffy’s mother has no use for it and she’s happy to help them out. The they commence reservations to add an extension, the skeletons of 2 people are found in the backyard beneath a concrete slab.

There are quite a few narrators: Saffy, her mother Laura and Rose, the owner of the property who lived in it with her young daughter during the timeframe that fits when the bodies would’ve been buried on the property are the more main narrators and then we also have Theo, a chef who finds his father’s interest in the discovered bodies very curious. Saffy is obviously incredibly distressed when the bodies are found, especially when she realises that the timeframe could put one of the people she loves the most firmly in the frame. She and Tom really just want a peaceful life but it’s turned upside down with journalists trying to get a comment, as well as neighbours upset at the intrusion into their own lives as well. Saffy wants to know what happened though – who the bodies are and more importantly, who put them there and why. And hopefully those answers will exonerate her beloved gran, who she cannot see as a person who would ever have done such a thing.

I really liked the way the relationships between the women were explored – Saffy often feels quite distanced from her mother and she was definitely a lot closer it seems, to her gran growing up. She is struggling with her grandmother’s illness and I think sometimes resentful her mother doesn’t seem to care as much as she does.

There were some great twists and turns in this, it definitely kept me engaged and there were things I did not predict! One thing in particular, took me a bit to wrap my head around, but I think everything worked really well and it was a fun suspense novel perfect for a morning at the beach!

8/10

Book #160 of 2022

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Review: Dangerous Intent by LynDee Walker & Laura Muse

Dangerous Intent (Nichelle Clark #9)
LynDee Walker & Laura Muse
Severn River Publishing
2022, 343p
Read via Kindle Unlimited

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Missing teenagers and execution-style murders vie for crime reporter Nichelle Clarke’s attention as she chases the stories into a web of intrigue and danger, determined to discover the truth at any cost.

Nichelle Clarke owes her boss a big headline. She gets her lucky break when a member of a notorious hate group is found with a bullet in his head, his body dumped in the woods. But then a boy from a local LGBTQ support group goes missing, and Nichelle can’t turn away from an old friend’s plea for help finding him.

Police across the state are reluctant to expend dwindling resources on runaways and murdered bigots, leaving Nichelle to take the investigations into her own hands. The number of missing teenagers climbs. Meanwhile, more dead bodies point to a ruthless serial killer with prejudice in his sights. As clues and dead ends pile up in nearly equal numbers and other reporters pick up the trail, the situation quickly spirals out of Nichelle’s control.

The killer is a master at covering their tracks, and they won’t stop until they’ve passed deadly judgment on every last bigot in the state.

Nichelle will fight her way through communities swallowed by fear to save lives…unless she loses her own in the process.

A murder mystery series taut with gripping, authentic plots that only a former crime reporter could write.

I thought the last Nichelle Clark book left everyone in a pretty good place and it had a bit of a feeling of finality about it, like it could’ve been written to wrap up the series. However, it seems Nichelle is back by popular demand and author LynDee Walker has a few other projects on the go now so she’s brought in a collaborator to help her with continuing the Nichelle Clark series. I was a little wary going in, because I wondered if it’d be obvious that there was now someone else involved and I have really enjoyed this series so I didn’t want to lose that. But I need not have worried at all.

It’s now been about a year since Nichelle left the daily behind and switched to writing for a weekly. She’s struggling a bit – she’s not used to being behind everyone in getting a story and Charlie at the TV station and the new reporter doing her old job are filing stories way before she can because they have every day to tell them. Nichelle knows she needs a big story, but something that the others don’t have. It’s hard though in crime, because so much relies on getting information out fast. Things are going well in her personal life though – Nichelle is loved up with Joey, who has left behind his previous life of being ‘connected’ and is no longer in the business of furthering crime. Even though there still may be a lurking danger for Joey from his old life, people resentful of his flip, so far it hasn’t eventuated and the two of them are ridiculously happy.

Nichelle gets a couple of leads on some potentially interesting stories – a potential hate group member found dumped with a bullet in his head and a star quarterback for a college football team benched after coming out as gay publicly. The first one she’ll be competing with her rivals in getting info and the story but the second one isn’t really in the wheelhouse of grisly crime so she might be able to turn that one into a big feature piece.

What I really love about Nichelle is that she’s so tenacious. She knows she’s at a strong disadvantage now, it’s hard to compete with dailies who can get news out so quickly, especially with online editions too. But she has an advantage over some of her old rivals and that’s she’ll do pretty much anything to get the story – and get information that others don’t have. She isn’t afraid to dig deeper and get the info she needs and she’s never scared off really, when sometimes that makes people want to murder her.

I’m actually really glad I got a chance to read about Nichelle and Joey as a “normal” couple – happily living together, working their (both now very legitimate) jobs with Joey’s former work no longer hanging over them. They just fit so well together – I’ve always liked them, since the very first book and they’ve evolved a lot over the now 9 books. Thankfully this book also moves away from Kyle hanging around – he’s still there and Nichelle still calls him for information and advice given he’s practically in charge of his department at the ATF at the moment, after what happened in the previous book, but he’s no longer part of a triangle of sorts, where he’s trying to be more with Nichelle than just friends. They were formerly in a relationship many years ago and over the series he’s occasionally been a much larger part of the story than I wanted him to be, sometimes trying to get Nichelle to rekindle things. I think he always felt like Joey was never going to be a long term option for Nichelle in his previous life and that gave Kyle a chance. Now Joey has left that life behind, basically for Nichelle and Kyle can’t really question his motives anymore and knows that they’re no longer an option. So that is a very positive thing for me.

I really loved Nichelle doing her job – I feel like that has always been such an incredible strength in this series, the time she spends researching her stories, how connected she gets to some of the people she meets. I liked the investigation into the treatment of an openly gay student in college sports and how that story grew to encompass so much more. I felt like this was a really strong instalment in the series and I hope that the two authors continue.

8/10

Book #114 of 2022

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Review: The Dead Romantics by Ashley Poston

The Dead Romantics
Ashley Poston
Berkley
2022, 368p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: A disillusioned millennial ghostwriter who, quite literally, has some ghosts of her own, has to find her way back home in this sparkling adult debut from national bestselling author Ashley Poston.

Florence Day is the ghostwriter for one of the most prolific romance authors in the industry, and she has a problem—after a terrible breakup, she no longer believes in love. It’s as good as dead.

When her new editor, a too-handsome mountain of a man, won’t give her an extension on her book deadline, Florence prepares to kiss her career goodbye. But then she gets a phone call she never wanted to receive, and she must return home for the first time in a decade to help her family bury her beloved father.

For ten years, she’s run from the town that never understood her, and even though she misses the sound of a warm Southern night and her eccentric, loving family and their funeral parlor, she can’t bring herself to stay. Even with her father gone, it feels like nothing in this town has changed. And she hates it.

Until she finds a ghost standing at the funeral parlor’s front door, just as broad and infuriatingly handsome as ever, and he’s just as confused about why he’s there as she is.

Romance is most certainly dead . . . but so is her new editor, and his unfinished business will have her second-guessing everything she’s ever known about love stories.

I knew as soon as I read the synopsis of this, I had to read it. So much so that I shelled out for the kindle version because the print isn’t going to be published here until October or November. I bought it the day it came out in eBook and ended up reading it pretty much right away. I don’t have a lot of these types of romances to read at the moment and I need one every so often to break up some of the other reading that I’ve been doing.

Florence Day has been ghostwriting the novels of a highly successful romance author for a few years. This is the last book she has to fulfil for her contact but a devastating break up 12 months ago means she no longer believes in love and every time she sits down to try and write, she ends up murdering the love interest. When she has to go and meet her new editor (who turns out to be both fearsome and fearsomely hot) it’s to try and negotiate a new deadline but he won’t hear of it. She has 24 hours to submit her draft but then her entire world is turned upside down and she’s forced to return home to the small town she left years ago after incidents and bullying resulted from something she helped with in her teens, not understanding the implications.

Florence has seen ghosts her whole life but she’s surprised to see the ghost of her new editor turn up in her hometown and he doesn’t understand what is happening. Florence is used to helping new ghosts sort through their issues so they can ‘move on’ but it’s harder this time….because she really likes him. And you can’t build something wth someone who is dead…..even if you can see them and speak to them. Can you?

So, I ended up really enjoying this. It’s fun and I definitely enjoyed the fact that that Ben, the editor, appears for most of the book as a ghost, which means that the author had a lot of time to build their emotional relationship and their banter and you can see them really falling for each other, even as Florence is trying to help Ben with why he is still….here. In the way that he is. That obviously brings about a lot of questions, because she’s having feelings for him and it’s clear he is for her too and how would they ever go about making it work? (As an aside, they do actually have a conversation about it, about being in an obviously non-physical but emotionally connected relationship) which I thought was amazing in a romance, where the focus can often be very much on the physical chemistry and that sexual attraction.

I thought the author did a great job in fleshing out Florence’s ‘gift’ as well as how it had impacted on her life, leading her to leave her hometown and not return and also how that choice impacted members of her family. When Florence returns home, she has a fractured relationship with her sister that clearly needs working on. Florence’s gift is also the reason for the ultimate betrayal in her life, the thing that happened twelve months ago that ruined her romantic outlook and practically destroyed her. It was a multi-faceted betrayal and it cut her so deeply, for many reasons and I felt like all of them were very understandable. She had given the whole part of her to someone and they ruthlessly abused that for their own gain, it was no wonder that Florence was having a struggle with writing big romantic endings after that!

I did praise the fact that the author took time to develop their emotional connection but on the flip side it does mean that this is a pretty chaste romance and I do tend to like mine with a little more spice. That’s not really an option here due to the plot and like I said, I appreciate the time that gave the characters to really connect – but I also missed the more physical aspects too, the ways in which little things can build tension and chemistry. But that is very much a personal thing and to be honest, is only the tiniest of quibbles because the connection is built so well. There were a couple of awkward moments though, one of which I felt could’ve been left out of the book because I think the author was trying to show sexual attraction in the only way she could but it honestly felt a bit…..not great.

I did really love this and I’ll be very excited for Ashley Poston’s next novel.

8/10

Book #109 of 2022

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Review: Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson

Open Water
Caleb Azumah Nelson
Viking
2021, 151p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Two young people meet at a pub in South East London. Both are Black British, both won scholarships to private schools where they struggled to belong, both are now artists – he a photographer, she a dancer – trying to make their mark in a city that by turns celebrates and rejects them. Tentatively, tenderly, they fall in love. But two people who seem destined to be together can still be torn apart by fear and violence.

This book was just exquisite to read.

I have seen a few people talk about it in various places and I’ve almost bought it twice before. I finally ended being unable to resist any longer (and it was pretty cheap, $5 on Kindle) and I finished it in a couple of hours. There’s a very small page count to this but it packs an absolute punch. Honestly I highlighted so much of this book – the writing is stunning and insightful and brutal at times. Open Water won the 2021 Costa Prize for a first novel and I can absolutely see why.

The two main characters are never named and the book is delivered in the second person, which isn’t something I come across too often. It centres around two young Black people who meet at a pub in London. The main narrator is male and he asks his friend to introduce him to a girl – there’s an instant connection between them but their meeting is somewhat complicated. The woman asks him to help her with a project as the man is a photographer and she has need of someone with that skill and they develop a close friendship that is beautifully layered (but still complicated). The female character is at university in Dublin still and is only in London during semester breaks but whenever she returns, they catch up often and more and more layers get added to the friendship, which remains that way for the longest time as she in particular, doesn’t want to jeopardise this thing that they’ve built by adding the complexity of romance. What if it were to go wrong? She says she’d lose her best friend. It adds this frustrated longing to the dynamic but without feeling overdone.

In and around this developing friendship are the realities of life being young and Black in London. The man, who knows to flip his hoodie down if he sees a police officer, who is stopped anyway some days, who sees violence and inequality everywhere and is exhausted and at times, completely overwhelmed by it. Both of them went to private schools and experienced being very much the minority and it’s a shared experience. Both are also artists – he a photographer, she a dancer and that also seems like an escape for both of them as well. There’s also a lot about masculinity – what that means, how it is expected to act in a certain way, to not act in other ways. Our male characters an avid reader and the book often mentions the piles of books in his room, the book he is reading, or his favourite author (Zadie Smith).

I highlighted so much of this book that some of the pages are more highlighted than not. There’s just a lot of really beautiful and powerful phrases in this book and it’s the sort of book that I think you can finish and just immediately flip back to the front and begin re-reading. There’s so much that I think I would get out of reading this a second time, once I know everything that happens. The ways in which the friendship unfolds, the chemistry between the two characters, the complications, the violence that is experienced and how that plays out as well as the male character’s relationship with his Ghanaian parents and also his brother. It just has so much packed into it but it doesn’t feel overcrowded. It just feels like the author used only exactly the words needed to convey what he wanted to say and showcase this story. I read a review that says it’s almost like poetry and it’s hard not to agree with that.

8/10

Book #12 of 2022

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Review: Away With The Penguins by Hazel Prior

Away With The Penguins (Veronica McCreedy #1)
Hazel Prior
Transworld Digital
2020, 346p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Veronica McCreedy is about to have the journey of a lifetime . . .

Veronica McCreedy lives in a mansion by the sea. She loves a nice cup of Darjeeling tea whilst watching a good wildlife documentary. And she’s never seen without her ruby-red lipstick. 

Although these days Veronica is rarely seen by anyone because, at 85, her days are spent mostly at home, alone.

She can be found either collecting litter from the beach (‘people who litter the countryside should be shot’), trying to locate her glasses (‘someone must have moved them’) or shouting instructions to her assistant, Eileen (‘Eileen, door!’).

Veronica doesn’t have family or friends nearby. Not that she knows about, anyway . . . And she has no idea where she’s going to leave her considerable wealth when she dies. 

But today . . . today Veronica is going to make a decision that will change all of this.

Two books featuring penguins already in 2022! When I saw this, there was no way that I wasn’t going to read it. I picked this up cheap on kindle last year and honestly I’m surprised that it took me this long tor read it.

Veronica is a formidable lady in her 80s who lives alone in a mansion on the coast of Scotland. She takes daily walks where she picks up litter and has a helper who comes in (Eileen) to assist her with the things she can no longer do. One Sunday when she goes to put her favourite program on, she finds it’s been replaced by a multi-part documentary on penguins. Veronica finds herself intrigued by the creatures but her memory isn’t the best so next week, when she goes to put her favourite show on, she’s surprised that it’s been replaced by a multi-part documentary on penguins (featuring a different one of the 18 types of penguins each week). This program leads Veronica to discover scientific research being done in the South Shetland Islands near Antarctica, on the decline of the population of the Adélie penguins there. She makes a decision. She will go there, see this research first hand with the purpose of leaving her vast wealth to the project, for it to be continued, should she deem it worthy.

Around the same time as this, Veronica also discovers that she has a grandson – but Patrick is not particularly what she pictured as a grandson of hers. He’s mostly unemployed, has just split up with his girlfriend, living in a hovel and a bit of a stoner. When she surprises him with a visit, Patrick and Veronica do not hit it off…..and the penguins look even more likely to benefit from Veronica’s millions.

I loved this. I thought it was so adorable. Veronica is a bit of a cranky older lady, she’s very forthright and has strong ideas about things (such as being addressed as Mrs McCreedy, doors being closed etc) but how many 85yo ladies would undertake to visit a research station in the Antarctic? Seeing penguins are my life’s ambition and if I had Veronica’s money I’d absolutely undertake an expedition to see the Adélie’s (my third favourite variety of penguin!). For my milestone birthday in February I was supposed to be in NZ, basically taking a tour of everywhere there you can see penguins but….for obvious reasons… I am not doing that. Yet. You can do a tour of Antarctica too, seeing the penguins there but it’s super pricey obviously and I have a bit of an aversion to cruise ships (floating Petri dishes in my mind) but if I had the money I think I’d suck up my fear of that and do it anyway, just for the experience.

Despite the best efforts of both Eileen and the research team leader at the station on Locket Island to dissuade her from coming, Veronica is equally determined to go there for her proposed three weeks and despite the primitive facilities, she adjusts remarkably well (probably much better than I would!). She makes a friend in Terry, the only female researcher on the island and accompanies her to check on the penguins. When Veronica finds an abandoned Adélie chick, she forces Terry to allow her to care for it, despite the scientists vowing not to ever interfere. However Terry sees the value in using this as fodder for her blog, to future raise awareness of their work and hopefully, bring in a few donations. I really enjoyed all of the scientists and their bemusement at Veronica’s arrival, one of them is even quite hostile but then their admiration and respect for her grow when she sticks it out and when she makes a bit of a difference in their little situation.

Running alongside this is the story of how Veronica found Patrick, her grandson and why he hasn’t been in her life before now. When she goes to the research station, Veronica leaves Patrick with her teenage diaries, which help explain her situation and perhaps shed some light on why she is the person she is in her advanced years. I really enjoyed the story of Veronica’s teenage years and how it was told – it sort of had more impact on Patrick I think, to read her words as she wrote them, rather than hear it told from far into the future. Even though they spent most of the book far apart, their relationship evolved really nicely and they developed this understanding of each other after their both somewhat negative first impressions.

There’s a sequel to this book, Call of the Penguins, which is set up right at the end of this when Veronica is asked to come to the Southern Hemisphere to help present a documentary on some other varieties of penguins who are not found in the Antarctic. You can bet I’ll be reading that!

***Also – there’s a mention of adopting an Adélie penguin in this book, which I didn’t know you could do. I have adopted penguins in Australia before and recently adopted a specific penguin from the Oamaru Blue colony in New Zealand (one of the many places I was hoping to visit). I definitely am going to look into adopting an Adélie as well.

This is charming but with an underlying seriousness about a lot of issues, not just climate change and species decline. Really enjoyed it and can’t wait for the next one.

8/10

Book #9 of 2022

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Review: A Little Bird by Wendy James

A Little Bird
Wendy James
Lake Union Publishing
2021, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: A homecoming snares a young woman in a dangerous tangle of lies, secrets, and bad blood in this gripping novel by the bestselling author of An Accusation.

Running from a bad relationship, journalist Jo Sharpe heads home to Arthurville, the drought-stricken town she turned her back on years earlier. While some things have changed—her relationship with her ailing, crotchety father, her new job at the community newspaper—Jo finds that her return has rekindled the grief and uncertainty she experienced during her childhood following the inexplicable disappearance of her mother and baby sister.

Returning to Arthurville has its unexpected pleasures, though, as Jo happily reconnects with old friends and makes a few new ones. But she can’t let go of her search for answers to that long-ago mystery. And as she keeps investigating, the splash she’s making begins to ripple outward—far beyond the disappearance of her mother and sister.

Jo is determined to dig as deep as it takes to get answers. But it’s not long before she realises that someone among the familiar faces doesn’t want her picking through the debris of the past. And they’ll go to any lengths to silence the little bird before she sings the truth. 

This has all the best elements of Australian rural crime

Josephine is returning to the small, dusty drought-prone place where she grew up. It wasn’t a particularly happy childhood, after her mother and baby sister vanished never to be seen again when Jo was around 8 years old. What was a missing persons investigation was closed when Jo’s father received a letter from her mother saying she wasn’t returning and after that, it was just assumed she’d left of her own volition. Jo has had to live with the fact that her mother took her sister with her but not her, her whole life. Her father turned to the bottle and Jo left town as soon as she finished school and hasn’t been back much. Until now.

She’s been offered a job to take over the local flagging newspaper, a mysterious benefactor paying for her employment. The catch is, she can only report positive stories and news. Whoever funds the paper isn’t interested in crime or bad happenings. It’s good times only – the bigger papers in the bigger cities can handle anything dark. Jo finds this….odd but goes with it. She covers local school events, functions, feel-good community stories but in being back in town, the disappearance of her mother and her sister is always on her mind.

Jo is a tough, independent type of character. She practically had to raise herself, she’s been on her own for a long time. Her relationship with her father is rough but not unsalvageable although the two of them have a lot of baggage and things to work through but they’re not the types to sit down and air it all out. Being back in her hometown is complex for Jo, there are all sorts of memories to confront. A lot of people she knows still live there and sometimes that’s good…..sometimes, not so.

Quite unintentionally, Jo discovers some things that make her realise that her mother’s leaving might not be as straightforward as it seems all those years ago and why none of her attempts to find her have ever been successful. Jo wants answers because I think that anyone in her position would want to know if their mother had chosen to leave them behind, in such a way. Or had they been a victim of something that meant that they weren’t able to return. A lot of Jo’s character has been shaped by her mother leaving and the story is excellent at showing the reader this without going into long inner monologues from Jo.

I also really enjoyed the character of Jo’s father. Mick Sharpe is a complicated character – a very young father, who attracted a girl from a very different background to his. A girl that then disappeared when they were still only in their mid-20s, leaving Mick a single father to Jo. He didn’t cope well with that and made mistakes but not through lack of caring about Jo or not wanting to be there, I don’t think. He’s always lived close to the poverty line, worked a hard physical job for not much financial reward and found solace in drink. He was a tough, reticent, very rural-Aussie-man type of character who does not do well talking about his feelings and often avoids things but still has ways of showing that he does care quite deeply for Jo and was very shook by the disappearance of his wife and baby daughter.

I found this incredibly engaging from the first page. I really wanted to know what had happened to Jo’s mother and sister and felt like this book did such an amazing job of showcasing the small town, the difference between some of the bigger properties with wealth behind them and those who have much less. Jo’s feelings about her return come across well as do her feelings about her father and her childhood. I also loved her connection with someone she knew when she was still living there and was hoping that’d play out in a particular way.

Wendy James is excellent at endings and honestly? This book has another fabulous one. Very clever.

8/10

Book #223 of 2021

Book #93 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2021

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Review: The Waterhole by Lily Malone

The Waterhole
Lily Malone
Self-published
2021, 359p
Copy courtesy of the author

Blurb {from Goodreads.com}: When a backyard dare to discover the source of a fabled waterhole uncovers human bones, small town detective, Marley West, leaps at the chance to kickstart his stalled career. But it’s more than two decades since developers filled the Cowaramup creek. The woman who owned the land—the Ross family matriarch—has passed away. Relations between her sons, Jack and Bill, are colder than the case.

Then the Ross family learn Marley is the grandson of notorious police sergeant, Alan West, the corrupt cop who once ruled the town with an iron fist. To solve the case, Marley must gain the trust of three people with no reason to trust each other and less reason to trust him: Bill, who left the love of his life to fight in Vietnam; charismatic Jack, who could always catch the eye of a pretty girl; and city school teacher, Annette, whose move to Cowaramup in 1966 would change the Ross brothers’ lives forever.

As he navigates a tangled web of lies and betrayals, jealousies and murder, Marley has to ask himself: are these bones better left buried?

I really enjoy Lily Malone’s romances so when she contacted me and asked me to review a new book she had coming out, I was enthusiastic. This is a departure from her previous work and it delves into a much darker type of story but don’t let that put you off. This is a very well put together mystery with well rounded characters and complex backstories for days.

Detective Marley West is called to a small Western Australian town when a couple of guys with a backhoe find human bones in an attempt to find a waterhole that used to exist before it was filled in during the subdivision development. A careful excavation of the site reveals not just the bones of one body but two.

There was so much I loved about this! Firstly, I really enjoyed the character of Detective Marley West. His story is doled out slowly and I still think there’s a lot we don’t know about Marley. His grandfather Alan West was a crooked cop who controlled the town during his time, having half of it in his pocket and the other half terrified of him and what might do. Although Marley isn’t him, he bears the legacy his grandfather’s disgrace left upon the family and how it impacted on other members as well. It also cost him his marriage and Marley isn’t in the greatest of places. He fights not to be taken off this case when it might be connected to his grandfather – perhaps this is a chance of some sort of redemption for Marley who isn’t the one who needs to be redeemed but still bears the stigma of it anyway. I also loved his interactions with his younger partner, Brigit Winger. The two of them are great together.

I found myself so intrigued by the story of Bill, Jack and Annette. It was hard not to really feel for Annette and the triangle was much more complex than it first appeared. It would’ve been really easy to simply demonise Jack I think but he had hidden depths and I felt like his friendship with Jed really showcased how genuine he’d been in his desire to live a better life when he was given the chance to be free. All three of them had suffered at the hands and whims of a person who enjoyed manipulating people and having power over them and that suffering had continued for years.

As well as there being the “present day” time period, which I think is 2018 and the time period when Bill and Jack meet Annette and how that plays out in the 60s, there’s also a brief foray into 1994 and a significant event that happens during that time. That part of the story gave me shivers because I’ve lived in a small town, I’ve experienced how laid back and casual things can be in that environment and this is an excellent example of how things like that can be taken advantage of and it’s always the sort of thing that you think would never happen in such a small town.

I don’t know if Lily Malone plans this to be a series, but I hope so because I honestly feel like this has a huge amount of potential. We’ve only scratched the surface with Marley West, the shadow that hangs over his head from his grandfather and how his career can progress from here. There’s some issues in his personal life as well, which could definitely be developed further. I also wouldn’t mind exploring Brigit as a character also but I feel like West in particular, could quite easily carry a series of some weight.

This was excellent – I found it riveting from the very beginning. I loved the setting, I thought the characters were done incredibly well and the overall mystery was compelling and kept me invested. This is a clever and polished foray into the world of mystery and crime.

9/10

Book #220 of 2021

The Waterhole is book #91 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge

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Review: Wild Place by Christian White

Wild Place
Christian White
Affirm Press
2021, 384p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: In the summer of 1989, a local teen goes missing from the idyllic suburb of Camp Hill in Australia. As rumours of Satanic rituals swirl, schoolteacher Tom Witter becomes convinced he holds the key to the disappearance. When the police won’t listen, he takes matters into his own hands with the help of the missing girl’s father and a local neighbourhood watch group.

But as dark secrets are revealed and consequences to past actions are faced, Tom learns that the only way out of the darkness is to walk deeper into it. Wild Place peels back the layers of suburbia, exposing what s hidden underneath guilt, desperation, violence and attempts to answer the question: Why do good people do bad things?

Christian White’s third novel is again, another brilliant and compelling suspense set in a small country town near Frankston in Victoria but one that could be recognisable to anyone who grew up in the late 80s in Australia in any number of small towns. School teacher Tom Witter grew up in Camp Hill and always thought he’d escape after a somewhat unpleasant high school experience. Decades later and he’s back there, married with two sons and living in a good street where all the properties back on to a stretch of bush the locals call ‘the wild place’. It’s the end of the 1989 school year and although Tom’s wife has a list of jobs for him, a summer of holidays stretches before him. The idyllic atmosphere is disturbed though, when at the local neighbourhood watch meeting, the fact that young teenager Tracie Reed has gone missing is a topic of conversation.

Tracie had just finished school and was going to be studying journalism. However her parents were getting a divorce and that coupled with a few things missing from her room leads the police to dismiss her mother’s claims that she’s been taken and assume that like many other teens, Tracie is a runaway. Presumably looking for a more exciting life than one would find in Camp Hill – Sydney, Byron Bay, the Gold Coast maybe? It’s been three weeks though and Tracie’s small amount of cash wouldn’t have stretched that far. Tom puts up some posters around town of the missing teen and when his 13 year old son confesses something to him, he also decides to look for clues that might shed some light on her disappearance.

A lot of the inspiration for this book appears to have been taken from the “Satanic Panic” of the 80s, mostly in the United States but White takes that and reframes it in a small town in Australia. Tom Wittner’s neighbour Sean is a “kid gone goth” – hair dyed black, pentagrams, metal music and he makes the perfect scapegoat in the disappearance of Tracie, because he looks different to all the other kids. He draws attention and not the positive kind and the problem with amateur sleuths is, they see things and put them together and think they have the right answer. But is Sean really guilty? Is his introversion and interest in things deemed to be “weird” a sign of more troubling behaviour? Or is he just a kid who likes black hair and loud music?

Like a lot of small towns, the further you get into this book, the more you realise so many of the characters have secrets and that not a lot is what it seems on the surface. The nice homes, the manicured lawns, the neighbourhood watch meetings provide a nice facade but some of these residents have definitely got things that they’d like to hide. I have to admit, I spent a huge part of the novel having no idea what had happened to Tracie and every time I thought I’d figured it out, something else would happen that would make me realise my guess was way off. I really appreciate a novel that presents so many potential outcomes for the reader to ponder over and there’s some honestly, quite shocking twists here towards the end of the book when things are slowly starting to fall into place and make sense.

Not only does Christian White write compelling stories, he also excels at creating characters that are so incredibly ordinary – and I mean that as a compliment, in that they all feel so real like they are the people you live next door to, go to school/work with, see at the supermarket but who are deeply layered and far more complex than they appear at first read. This was so reminiscent of an Australian summer of my childhood, with kids playing in the street, exploring the bush (even when they’ve been told not to) and having New Year’s parties with the whole street invited. Everyone knowing what everyone else was up to as they hose their lawns, wash their cars, get the mail, etc. The whole neighbourhood watch thing, which you couldn’t walk down a street without seeing half a dozen of those stickers in windows in the 80s.

This is clever, well constructed page turner with plenty of shocks and an ending that I think will provide a lot for discussion and thought among its readers. Very enjoyable and would probably make an excellent mini-series.

8/10

Book #187 of 2021

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Review: Tempting Taste by Sara Whitney

Tempting Taste (Cinnamon Roll Alphas #1)
Sara Whitney
LoveSpark Press
2021, 326p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: When a grumpy baker and a brash marketing wiz collide, they’ll either blend perfectly… or turn into a recipe for disaster.

After a chaotic childhood, all Erik Andersson wants is peace and stability. What a shock, then, to find himself quitting on the spot after a tornado of a woman storms his workplace and exposes the toxicity of his boss. Although Erik should be focused on locking down his next gig, he instead agrees to a wild business proposal from the beautiful chaos agent intent on upending his life.

Josie Ryan spent years chasing her mother’s approval and now fills that void by wowing clients with her buzzy PR events. So when the brooding baker with the gorgeous cakes ends up jobless, Josie leaps at the chance to prove her worth by turning his talent into an empire—assuming she can work alongside a reserved hunk who charms her with every grumble.

Keep it professional. That’s the first rule of a good partnership. Soon enough, though, Josie and Erik have dropped their defensive walls to explore the potential of their sweet-and-salty relationship. But as the business grows, their clashing definitions of success threaten their happy equilibrium. Can they resolve their differences to form the perfect fusion, or will the heat force one of them out of the kitchen?

This was relatively cute but without being particularly memorable.

It’s an opposites attract sort of deal with a confident go-getter in Josie, the main female character who works in PR/marketing and is very good at what she does. She crosses paths with the hero, Erik a very big strapping Nordic Viking looking type on a train at first and then later, at a bakery where Erik works. When the owner refuses to bake a cake for Josie’s best friend, a man who is marrying another man Erik is confronted by the bigotry and he quits. He contacts Josie and offers to make the cake her best friend liked so much and in return, Josie decides she will market Erik, who is very shy and kind of taciturn and never uses more than the minimum amount of words and most of the time, no words does him just fine.

Josie is a bit of a force, she’s got some issues revolving around not feeling adequate because of her over-achieving and somewhat narcissistic mother so she’s always about proving herself and driving herself forward and Erik is sort of something of a project, yet again something to succeed at. Erik, despite his phenomenal baking talent and excellent good looks which would definitely boost his profile and draw a lot of clientele, he’s very reluctant for his image to be used or for him to do certain things revolving around publicity. Josie tends to just barrel over Erik’s wishes and decide she knows better (and although she kind of does she definitely doesn’t listen to him and this ends up resulting on one very serious blow up).

This book definitely made me want cake. A lot of cake. The flavours described just sound so delicious and who doesn’t love reading about cake and a big, handsome, muscly man who can make amazing cakes? Yes please, sign me up! Especially because Erik’s somewhat intimidating exterior hides a cinnamon roll interior (hence the name of the series!). I really liked Erik, I liked the way the book explored his background and his quiet manner and the way he was prepared to let Josie pretty much have her way with a lot of things, despite the fact that sometimes it made him uncomfortable (not every single thing, as I mentioned above, but most things). Erik trusts that she’s good at her job but I feel like he also needs to be heard as well on things that are important to him.

The chemistry between the two of them was okay – Josie was at times, a bit difficult to like because she can be really over the top sometimes. In their first scene together, she kind of goes on the attack to him even though he didn’t actually do anything other than show up and say nothing. Also her issues with her mother seep into every aspect of her life, including her romantic life and there are times it feels like Josie lashes out at Erik because he’s there (and because he can take it) rather than deal with her thing. It got a bit frustrating and made me feel somewhat sympathetic towards Erik, who had to deal with a lot of what could only be described as tantrums or meltdowns.

This was a nice read, had some funny moments and I did really enjoy Erik as a character. The book also sets up the next one in the series but honestly I’m not sure I’ll go on with them. If I happen to see a book on sale I might grab one in the future but I wasn’t blown away by this enough to actually hunt them down when I currently have so many other books to read. It was a nice, cute way to pass the time but had nothing that really made it stand out to me.

6/10

Book #179 of 2021

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Review: Love & Virtue by Diana Reid

Love & Virtue
Diana Reid
Ultimo Press
2021, 265p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Feminism, power and sex play out through the eyes of young Australian uni students in a contemporary narrative that is fiercely authentic.

Whenever I say I was at university with Eve, people ask me what she was like, sceptical perhaps that she could have always been as whole and self-assured as she now appears. To which I say something like: ‘People are infinitely complex.’ But I say it in such a way—so pregnant with misanthropy—that it’s obvious I hate her.

​Michaela and Eve are two bright, bold women who befriend each other their first year at a residential college at university, where they live in adjacent rooms. They could not be more different; one assured and popular – the other uncertain and eager-to-please. But something happens one night in O-week – a drunken encounter, a foggy memory that will force them to confront the realities of consent and wrestle with the dynamics of power.

Initially bonded by their wit and sharp eye for the colleges’ mix of material wealth and moral poverty, Michaela and Eve soon discover how fragile friendship is, and how capable of betrayal they both are.

Written with a strikingly contemporary voice that is both wickedly clever and incisive, issues of consent, class and institutional privilege, and feminism become provocations for enduring philosophical questions we face today.

I can’t remember the last time I saw a book as much on social media, as I did this one. I’d never heard of it until about a week before it was published and then all of sudden, it was pretty much everywhere on my instagram. And I guess it’s a testament to that ploy that I bought it and read it only 2 days after it came out.

When I was 19, I moved from my regional town to somewhere in Sydney, for University. So obviously, I lived on campus in a residential dorm, which housed 48 students – 16 to a floor, 3 floors. It was separated from the rest of the residential dorms by a stretch of grass about the size of a football field, which led to a bit of a disconnect between people in my dorm and the students in the rest of the dorms, which formed a quadrangle. It meant that we were often kind of looked down upon by the other dorms (we were the only dorms that included fridges in the rooms, which is why I chose it) but also that we all formed quite a tight bond.

It’s been 20 years since I moved into that residential college but this book took me straight back there like it was yesterday. Like the main character Michaela, I came from outside of Sydney and was surprised by how many people were from Sydney that had moved into the residential college. And many of them had gone to private schools (SHORE, Grammar, Wenona to name just a few I remember). It also had a large number of students who’d gone to boarding schools and were now getting Agricultural degrees before returning to run family farms and the like. It was for me, like stepping into a different world. And that’s before you tackle some of the problematic elements of living on campus.

And that’s what this book does – holds up some of those to the light and examines them through female eyes. I think everyone who has lived on campus, probably has a story where they feared for their safety, where they maybe drank too much and aren’t sure what happened, where they went along with something they perhaps weren’t 100% into, just because. It’s not uncommon and this book reminded me of a lot of my experiences – the good and the bad, with living on campus at a university. Because it’s not all bad. For the most part, everyone is living away from home for the first time, you’re experiencing a taste of freedom, of making your own decisions and choosing your own fates. You make incredibly close friends because you live with these people 24/7. It can be enormous amounts of fun. But it also can be scary, alienating, daunting and in some cases, downright dangerous. My residential hall ended up hiring a security guard to patrol at night and escort us to things like the library or IT building (which was all the way across campus, a 10-15m walk) after a girl was attacked walking back late at night and there were several other attempts. This was in the era before high speed internet in dorm rooms and smart phones, so to use the internet or for many people even a computer or printer, you had to go to the IT building.

For me, so much of this was reminiscent of my own experience at university in many ways even as it was exploring things in a way that I felt would never have been explored during my time and at my own place of residence. It didn’t mean that they weren’t thought about sometimes but this book takes those issues of consent, of privilege, of power, of wealth, of entitlement, and lays them all bare. And it’s more than just that, it’s also an exploration of a charismatic but also toxic friendship at a place of higher learning where everyone is finding their way and just trying to establish themselves. In year 12, you’re a big fish – at university you’re basically a nobody. You can walk into a lecture theatre filled with 2-300 people, all of whom you feel are probably much cleverer than you. It’s possible to feel like a fraud, an imposter. There’s a great showcase in the cast of minor characters here (that person that always, always asks a long, boring question that isn’t really a question but just an erudite sentence proclaiming their own intelligence and superiority) and point me to someone who didn’t share a dorm with a “Wait. What?” girl.

I think this book would really resonate with a lot of people – anyone who lived on campus or went to university mixers, anyone who has experienced the divide between private school and not, anyone who has felt there was an incident in their lives of blurred consent or worse. Anyone who came up against college bureaucracy or an institution’s desire to protect itself. Anyone who discovered that women could be poisonous toward other women in ways they hadn’t encountered or expected before. I felt like some of the philosophy went over my head but I never took a class in it, even at first year level but it was somewhat interesting to read some of the arguments. The social commentary was excellent however and so was the characterisation. I really feel like this is a very powerful and well written story from an author that is going to be one to watch.

8/10

Book #178 of 2021

This is book #77 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021

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