All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

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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Review: The Highland Fling by Meghan Quinn

The Highland Fling
Meghan Quinn
Montlake
2021, 350p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Freshly fired from her third job in a row, Bonnie St. James has lost her way. So when she and her best friend stumble upon a “help wanted” post to run a coffee shop in the Scottish Highlands, they apply on a whim. Who knows? Maybe traveling to a new place is just what she needs to figure out her next move.

When the friends arrive in the tiny idyllic town of Corsekelly, they instantly fall for the gorgeous Highland landscape and friendly townspeople. But Bonnie finds a less-than-warm welcome in Rowan MacGregor, the rugged local handyman. Busy wrestling his own demons, Rowan’s in no mood to deal with the quirky American—even if she is a bonny lass.

As Bonnie and Rowan’s paths inevitably cross, insults—and sparks—fly. Can the pair build on their similarities to help each other find purpose and direction…and maybe romance too? Or will their passionate tempers fling them apart?

I actually preordered this (got it really cheap) after seeing it highlighted somewhere. Maybe a Goodreads romance wrap up or something like that. I’ve been buying a lot of books like this lately (contemporary romance with a lot of humour) but to be honest, the results have been hit and miss for me and this one? Is another miss.

I almost DNF’d this many times. Look, I understand that arriving in a foreign country is daunting, particularly when they drive on the other side of the road. But there’s a whole scene which is just so over the top and paints Bonnie in the most ridiculous manner and I thought okay, maybe it was just because she was so stressed. But no. Bonnie is pretty much like that, all the time.

Enemies to lovers has a bit of a knack to it for me, because it’s difficult to get the enemies bit right without making the bickering feel really annoying and in this book, the bickering between Bonnie and Rowan is really annoying. They are so childish and awful (particularly Bonnie) and it’s peppered with weird moments like the bats and drunken dancing. Everyone smiling smugly and “knowing” that they’re into each other is weird, especially because they keep saying it in front of both of them and they’ve only known each other like, three hours.

I wanted more Scotland, more actual cafe stuff, more showcasing the small village and the differences for them after coming from LA. Instead so much is focused on Bonnie and after all that focusing, here’s what I know about Bonnie:

  1. She likes cake
  2. She’s been fired a lot, for someone who is early 20s
  3. She’s horny
  4. That’s it. That’s all.

Bonnie is self-involved, self-absorbed, a bad friend and not a great girlfriend either. Luckily this is balanced out by the fact that Bonnie’s friend Dakota is almost as bad a friend as Bonnie is and Rowan is a terrible boyfriend with an anger management problem and Daddy issues out the wazoo. These people are both terrible to each other and probably it’s best that they don’t inflict themselves on normal people.

The first 75% of this was a 1-star book. However the last section is actually much better: Rowan and his family have to actually address the toxic mess that their family has become, a lot of stuff that’s been simmering below the surface between a lot of characters is aired out and addressed and resolved and there’s some genuine emotion and feeling in this portion of the book. And actually, I didn’t mind the sex scenes either. Bonnie’s a confident character in bed, an instigator and I liked the way they were written.

But. I felt like there were still things that were so unnecessary in this book and in the behaviour of all the main characters, in particular, Rowan’s blow up. It’s true that he catches Bonnie in a place that makes him feel raw and exposed and that he’s also just received some devastating news. But screaming in her face was so off-putting – it felt like such a display of toxic masculinity when he could’ve chosen to confide in her, to connect with her, to bring her into his life. Instead he went over the top ridiculous in his manner of telling her off and it honestly gave me red flags. I had liked Rowan better than Bonnie up until that point but reading that really put me off him, despite the circumstances.

I felt like the set up of this book – the girls moving to Scotland to take over the cafe – was actually lost for a really big portion of the book. I just wanted to read more about that, and I get the cafe wasn’t thriving, and why….but it seemed like they waited a really long time to implement the (very good) changes that Bonnie came up with. Like, what were they doing every day? Just sitting in an empty building, doing nothing? It was kind of weird. I feel like there could’ve been a lot more about that, as well as exploring the area and interacting with people. I have this feeling that some of the other characters might pop up in books in the future…..but I don’t think I’ll be reading them.

This was a really disappointing read for me but it has a lot of very high ratings on Goodreads, so might just be a case of me just not vibing with the story and the characters.

3/10

Book #175 of 2021

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Review: The Name Curse by Brooke Burroughs

The Name Curse
Brooke Burroughs
Montlake
2021, 334p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: In this flirty wilderness adventure by the author of The Marriage Code, two hikers who drive each other crazy discover they might have a lot to learn from one another about navigating life, love, and living up to family expectations.

Ever since her father died, Bernie’s life has been stagnant. When concerned friends and family suggest she join a hike through Alaska to gain new perspective, Bernie reluctantly agrees to go, even though she’s never been the adventurous type, unlike her namesake, Great-Aunt Bernice.

Matthew is a struggling screenwriter who needs a week off the grid to gain some inspiration for a new project and to process the reappearance of his absent father.

When the two meet at the trailhead, it’s annoyance at first sight. He’s dismayed to discover that he’ll have to share a tent with Bernie, who doesn’t know the first thing about camping, while she finds he’s a little too into “roughing it” to be a reasonable human being. But as they’re forced to hike through the wilderness together, their relationship becomes a surprising source of empathy and inspiration…and maybe other feelings too. Can the two adversaries find the path to breaking the curse of family expectations—and each other?

I think this one might just be a case of, “it’s not the book, it’s me”. It has a lot of very positive reviews on Goodreads but for me, I just found it a big struggle to get into the story and to connect with any of the characters. They had so little chemistry and the conflict was very lacklustre.

I was drawn to this because I adore books set in Alaska, I love anything about Alaska. I love watching documentaries about it, reading books there, watching people that live there going about their lives. It’s so beautiful and so different to what I am used to. This was also a bit of an enemies to lovers trope, which is also one of my favourite things so I thought this would 100% be a hit for me. Unfortunately, it just really wasn’t.

Loved the idea – although as much as I love Alaska, the idea of a 5-day hike is kind of my worst nightmare. But I love the idea of reading about other people doing such a hike, especially when they’re as unprepared for such a thing as Bernie is. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a girl who likes my creature comforts (a working bathroom with running water please) so this sort of adventure is not for me but it definitely makes for an interesting setting within a story.

Bernie is stuck in a bit of a rut – still living in her childhood home, she is forced into taking some annual leave by her boss after allowing too much to accumulate. Her mother, thinking Bernie needs to have a bit of an adventure, live up to her namesake of her crazy Great Aunt Berniece, buys her a Groupon of a 5-day hike up Mount Dinali in Alaska. A mix up leads the organisers to believe that Bernie is a man, and they place her in a tent with Matthew, a screenwriter from LA who is escaping the city in search of fresh inspiration for his next project. Bernie and Matthew do not hit it off and it’s made all the more awkward by the fact that they will continue to have to share a tent.

I usually love a bit of forced proximity and “There was only one bed!” (or in this case, tent) but these two just had no actual chemistry, for me. They bickered a bit early on, but not in a hot, sexy filled-with-tension sort of way. More like in just a two people nitpicking everything sort of way. Also Bernie is one of those people that does things or has things happen to her which are supposed to be funny but in that way that just makes you cringe internally when you read them with secondhand embarrassment.

I also found it really weird that Bernie was named after her aunt and everyone seemed to expect her to be like her adventurous aunt? Like it’s said that she was named after her because she was such a funny baby, doing all these funny, crazy things but….you literally name a baby usually within moments of it being born, or at worst a few weeks later. Bernie did seem to be a bit wild and adventurous when she was younger but her desire to be like her much-admired Dad has meant that she’s reined that side of her in and it seems that people keep almost being disappointed (mostly her mother) that she’s not like that anymore and she should be more spontaneous or out there or crazy or do wild things. It took up a rather large part of the story and considering Great Aunt Berniece is no longer with us and actually, barely rates a mention as an actual human not connected to Bernie’s existential struggle, I did find my patience running out with this as well as Bernie’s lack of communication with her mother and asserting herself as an adult. She can’t seem to decide anything about her life, whether it’s to sell the family home, take a holiday, be wild or not, etc.

I just also didn’t find myself at all invested in either Matthew or Bernie as a couple either, all of this seemed to happen over just a week and I just didn’t feel like the development of their relationship was something I cared deeply about. Matthew was sort of fine I guess, although I completely understand why Bernie got upset at the end of the book and the story with his dad didn’t really seem fleshed out as much as it could have been.

I’m so disappointed I didn’t love this. I have had a few fails lately, with books I thought I would adore. Maybe I don’t know myself as well as I think at the moment!

5/10

Book #167 of 2021

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Review: Whiteout by Adriana Anders

Whiteout (Survival Instincts #1)
Adriana Anders
Sourcebooks Casablanca
2021, 352p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Angel Smith is ready to leave Antarctica for a second chance at life. But on what was meant to be her final day, the research station is attacked. Hunted and scared, she and glaciologist Ford Cooper barely make it out with their lives…only to realize that in a place this remote, there’s nowhere left to run.

Isolated in the middle of a long, frozen winter with a madman at their heels, they must fight to survive in the most inhospitable—and beautiful—place on earth. But the outside world depends on what Ford and Angel know and, as their pursuers close in and their new partnership burns bright and hot, they will stop at nothing to make it out of the cold alive.

Okay so anyone that knows me and what I like as a reader, would know immediately that Antarctica is an instant autoread for me. I love books set in Antarctica and I also love enforced proximity as a romance trope. This ticks so many of my boxes I had to buy it and it was only about $5 so I thought why the heck not.

It was actually a pretty decent read. Was it at all realistic? No. Did I care? Also no.

Angel Smith has been working at a research station in Antarctica over the “summer”, as the station cook. She’s provided the researchers and workers with tasty meals but now it’s time for the summer crew to leave and the station will be manned by a skeleton winter crew. One of the winter crew will be glaciologist Ford Cooper, who has caught Angel’s eye more than once but who has shut her down at every opportunity. Just before Angel should be boarding the plane she finds herself caught up in an attack on the station and left behind – just her and Dr Ford Cooper. With the station destroyed they need to leave – especially as Angel made sure that the people who attacked the station did not leave with what they wanted and they’ll be back. They have 21 days of food to make it almost 300 miles to a Russian research station across harsh unforgiving territory and no doubt with people on their heels with technology at their disposal, which Angel and Ford do not have.

Ford and Angel will have to rely on each other in ways that will test every single thing about them – especially Ford, who has always kept Angel at a distance for multiple reasons. Ford has some sensory issues, he seems to get easily overloaded by sounds and crowds and other things as well and he’s definitely a reclusive type of person who rarely gets close to anyone. Angel is a bit of a ray of sunshine and she’s been intrigued by him for a while. He also definitely thinks she’s attractive but doesn’t think that sort of attachment is for him. He’s happiest researching his ice in Antarctica, drilling his ice cores and whatever and living a peaceful and solitary life. The isolation and peace of Antarctica suits him but close proximity to Angel on the journey tests his control to the limit.

Look, the mystery/suspense bit isn’t the strongest. There’s a lot of people operating some sort of clandestine research of their own, and they need Ford’s ice cores. There’s a lot about how it goes “all the way to the top” (which by of course they mean the American government, because who else would be “the top”?) and the villains are at times, comically evil but also incredibly stupid. I’m not sure when this was written but what is in the ice feels uncomfortable to read at the moment but it could just be a coincidence (ok it was published January 2020 so it’s a coincidence which suddenly gains an all new realism in 2021).

However, where this book is excellent, is the romance. And let’s face it, that’s why I was reading it anyway! This is not quite enemies to lovers, but it has the forced proximity that is my jam and sexual tension for days. Especially because for a while, it has to remain unconsummated as well, one just can’t be going around being naked in a tent in quickly-turning-to-winter Antarctica where it’s -25 to -45. The tension is delicious and I really loved Ford’s inner struggle with himself and his tenuous grip on his control and it’s so much fun. I also liked the descriptions of the trip where they have to mostly ski across a large portion of Antarctica to the next research station and the growing realisation that they simply aren’t moving fast enough for the amount of food they have with them.

This is a series and it looks like the overall story is going to spin out over several books, so there is not closure here on the ‘big bad’ and what they’re doing. The author introduces some people Ford knows and those people are seemingly going to provide the basis for a potential number of books and it’s probably going to become this group vs the big evil that is trying to do something incredibly deadly. So this book ends without any real closure on that story and I did like this enough to want to read the next one because……it’s set in Alaska! Which is also one of my favourite settings. More forced proximity! People on the run! Sometimes you just want some fun.

Entertaining. Kept me invested and I really enjoyed the romance.

7/10

Book #170 of 2021

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Review: Montana by Fiona McArthur

Montana (Lyrebird Lake #1)
Fiona McArthur
Self-published
2020, 213p
Freebie via iBooks

Blurb {from Goodreads.com}: The Midwives of Lyrebird Lake – where every day brings a miracle.

Montana Book 1

For midwife Montana, finding out she was pregnant was the best moment of her life. But days later she was widowed. Nine months have passed, her daughter is born, and Montana knows she needs a fresh start.

Dr Andy Buchanan is building services at Lyrebird Lake Hospital and he wants Montana for the new maternity unit. He can’t get the beautiful new mum out of his mind.

Lyrebird Lake is the perfect place for Montana to build a new life – with Andy?

And then there’s the magical myth of the lyrebirds… 

Sometimes, you just crave a quiet read, and this book fit the bill perfectly. And I don’t mean quiet in a negative way at all – sometimes, I prefer a read with lower level conflict and less drama, just as a relaxing read or a palate cleanser, especially after quite a few high stakes or depressing reads. And I always enjoy Fiona McArthur’s books – her main characters are almost almost midwives, which I enjoy reading about and the quiet, slower pace of them is soothing.

Montana lost her husband tragically just after finding out she was pregnant. Nine months later, her daughter was born and Montana is restless. An opportunity to move north to the rural community of Lyrebird Lake presents itself and Montana grabs it. There she can relax into being a new mother but with support around her and also the opportunity to establish a maternity unit at the small local hospital. It would mean local women getting to birth close to home, rather than having to travel to a bigger hospital. Also tempting for Montana is Dr Andy Buchanan, who has experienced loss just like she has and who is making her wonder when the right time to move on is.

This was just a really nice calming sort of read, it was easy and quite quick but despite that, the pace was slower, very mellow. The characters are still well-fleshed out though and there was enough time to really develop the area of Lyrebird Lake and give the reader an idea of who they might expect to see books about in the future. I’ll definitely keep these books in mind for times when I need something to chill out with.

6/10

Book #164 of 2021

This is book #71 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021

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Review: The Spanish Love Deception by Elena Armas

The Spanish Love Deception
Elena Armas
Self-published
2021, 487p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from Goodreads.com}: A wedding. A trip to Spain. The most infuriating man. And three days of pretending. Or in other words, a plan that will never work.

Catalina Martín, finally, not single. Her family is happy to announce that she will bring her American boyfriend to her sister’s wedding. Everyone is invited to come and witness the most magical event of the year.

That would certainly be tomorrow’s headline in the local newspaper of the small Spanish town I came from. Or the epitaph on my tombstone, seeing the turn my life had taken in the span of a phone call.

Four weeks wasn’t a lot of time to find someone willing to cross the Atlantic–from NYC and all the way to Spain–for a wedding. Let alone, someone eager to play along my charade. But that didn’t mean I was desperate enough to bring the 6’4 blue eyed pain in my ass standing before me.

Aaron Blackford. The man whose main occupation was making my blood boil had just offered himself to be my date. Right after inserting his nose in my business, calling me delusional, and calling himself my best option. See? Outrageous. Aggravating. Blood boiling. And much to my total despair, also right. Which left me with a surly and extra large dilemma in my hands. Was it worth the suffering to bring my colleague and bane of my existence as my fake boyfriend to my sister’s wedding? Or was I better off coming clean and facing the consequences of my panic induced lie?

Like my abuela would say, que dios nos pille confesados.

The Spanish Love Deception is an enemies-to-lovers, fake-dating romantic comedy. Perfect for those looking for a steamy slow-burn romance with the sweetest Happily Ever After. 

I’ve seen this around billed for fans of The Hating Game which is one of my favourite romances of all time. And from reading the blurb, this definitely sounded like something that has all the things I adore: an enemies to lovers, the fake dating trope, the grumpy/sunshine dynamic. It’s all there. And it’s pretty cheap – $4 on Amazon, I believe (Australian). So it seemed a good investment.

I did enjoy this but what I thought was going to be a 5-star read for me at first, did not pan out that way and there are a few reasons why….

Firstly – okay, The Hating Game thing. There are a lot of similarities. Like a lot. Both Josh and Aaron are physically similar. Big, intimidating men in terms of height and physique, well over 6 feet and muscly. They are similar in looks too, with both being dark haired and much made of their blue eyes. Catalina in this book, is small in stature, like Lucy in THG and there’s a lot of references to how big Aaron is and how small Catalina is. They work together and a misunderstanding right at the beginning where Lina makes a peace offering and Aaron reacts badly, leading to Lina feeling angry and rejected and disliking him, is also, very similar. There’s an offer of help and a fake date to a wedding. And Aaron is so painstakingly obviously head over heels in love with Lina, in the same way that Josh was in love with Lucy and had been from the very beginning. I dislike comparing books but these two have a lot of very, very similar things going on. And the further I got into the book, the more I kept noticing, more than I’ve listed here. Honestly, the similarities just went on and on and I started to get quite a bit uncomfortable with just how similar many aspects of the plot and descriptions, even the banter, etc, was.

Secondly, this is a hella slow burn and if that’s your jam, if you like things to draw out so long until it snaps…..I think I read a review which said no one even kisses here until like, the 300p mark. I read this on my kindle and I didn’t realise it was almost 500p when I started it but I did definitely notice from about the 50% on point that it was taking a long time to read and I read pretty quickly and this book should’ve been wrapping up at the point where things are finally starting to happen. For me, the tension went on just a bit too long and the whole ‘there was only one bed’ wasn’t taken advantage of in the way that it could/should have been. By the time it happened, the bubble had about burst and then the love scenes felt a bit cringey with some very over the top dialogue and then that dialogue continues throughout the rest of the story. It felt overdone, to be honest. The chemistry leading up to it was good, especially around the wedding…..but the actual breaking of the tension was a bit lacking, for me personally. If I could never read the sentence “or do you want me to claim it with my cock?” again, that would be excellent, thank you.

I don’t know how to rate this….. It’s one of those books where the more I think about it, the more I am wondering exactly what I’m rating it for. Am I rating it because it’s very similar to a book I’ve already read and loved and the aspects of this book that remind me of that book, are what I liked? I don’t know. I also loved Lina’s friend Rosie from work and how she keeps blatantly pointing out what she sees about Aaron (which Lina refuses to listen to, because Lina is dumb when it comes to that) and I’m quite interested in the fact that she’s getting her own book because I want to see if there’s something original in that. It’s difficult to ignore all the similarities this story has with a much-loved book, for me.

I think I need to stop thinking about this because the more I do think about it, the less I like it.

5/10

Book #161 of 2021

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