All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Love And Other Words by Christina Lauren

Love And Other Words
Christina Lauren
Gallery Books
2018, 406p
Read via my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: The story of the heart can never be unwritten. 

Macy Sorensen is settling into an ambitious if emotionally tepid routine: work hard as a new pediatrics resident, plan her wedding to an older, financially secure man, keep her head down and heart tucked away.

But when she runs into Elliot Petropoulos—the first and only love of her life—the careful bubble she’s constructed begins to dissolve. Once upon a time, Elliot was Macy’s entire world—growing from her gangly bookish friend into the man who coaxed her heart open again after the loss of her mother…only to break it on the very night he declared his love for her.

Told in alternating timelines between Then and Now, teenage Elliot and Macy grow from friends to much more—spending weekends and lazy summers together in a house outside of San Francisco devouring books, sharing favorite words, and talking through their growing pains and triumphs. As adults, they have become strangers to one another until their chance reunion. Although their memories are obscured by the agony of what happened that night so many years ago, Elliot will come to understand the truth behind Macy’s decade-long silence, and will have to overcome the past and himself to revive her faith in the possibility of an all-consuming love.

I’ve read a couple of Christina Lauren books before but I haven’t really gelled with them. One was not my style and the other I listened to on audiobook and the narration didn’t really work for me. However people keep recommending various titles of hers to me and I hear and see others talking about them and reviewing them and so many of them sound like they’d be something I’d love. I have their newest one, The Soulmate Equation on reserve at my local library and when I was last in there picking up a book and knowing we’d be going into lockdown again, I grabbed a few titles from the display shelves and this book was one of them.

And I’m so glad I did because I loved this story. Pretty much everything about it. The characters, the way it was told, all of it.

Macy is a doctor working in paediatrics. se’s having lunch with her old college friend when she sees Elliot, her first love – and a person she hasn’t seen in eleven years, since the night he broke her heart. Seeing Elliot again is a shock and Macy’s first instinct is to run away but Elliot comes after her. The two of them spent years being best friends, being more than that, being everything, so it’s hard for Macy to continue to ignore him because a desperate part of her wants Elliot too. Despite the fact that she’s engaged, despite everything that happened that last night they spoke.

I loved the back and forth way this was told, with chapters in the present alternating with chapters from the past that showed how Elliot and Macy built a friendship basically just as she spent weekends and summers at her family’s holiday house, which was next door to where Elliot lived. They both had reading in common which was another thing I loved, because when books have characters that are readers and reference a lot of books, it’s always a big plus for me. I thought they worked well together too, Elliot is quite an open personality and Macy is more closed off, her tragic loss has definitely shaped her. Elliot can ask questions and sometimes make her talk but other times he’s content to be silent with her, both of them reading in her room. And as they get a bit older, the friendship gets another, more complicated layer that has excellent amounts of sexual tension: two teenagers experiencing attraction but on Macy’s part, not wanting to ruin the friendship they have, which really keeps things simmering. I thought that exploration when they were teens was really well done as was the balance with the close friendship.

Macy has experienced a lot in her life and her adult self seems to have been going through the motions for years. The return of Elliot into her life definitely complicates things because with Elliot, she can’t maintain that sort of emotional distance that she’s been able to do with other people. It sort off forces her to address things, although it does take a long while for the incident that ruined their friendship/burgeoning relationship to be revealed as the flashbacks are told in chronological order. Both Elliot and Macy have clear ideas of what they thought happened and both of them need to share those ideas with each other so they can actually complete the whole picture. I understand why Macy didn’t give Elliot a chance but he never has and he needs to know why.

I think if this book had really explored what happened to Elliot that night properly as well as Macy, it would’ve been a five star read for me. But I think it glossed over it a bit – like it was explained enough for Macy to understand and also for the reader to see how Elliot was affected by it but the act itself wasn’t named for what it truly was. And I think there was an opportunity to say more about it, rather than just drop it as a reason and move on. But that was really my only gripe with this story. I loved it and absolutely tore through it, reading wise. So now I have found a title by these authors that does work for me and I’m eager to read more.

8/10

Book #127 of 2021

Leave a comment »

Review: Tiger Daughter by Rebecca Lim

Tiger Daughter
Rebecca Lim
Allen & Unwin
2021, 206p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: What I feel most days is that nothing is ever going to change. That my life won’t even start, and that I’ll be stuck like this forever. Wen Zhou is the only child of Chinese immigrants whose move to the lucky country has proven to be notso lucky. Wen and her friend, Henry Xiao — whose mum and dad are also struggling immigrants — bothdream of escape from their unhappy circumstances, and form a plan to sit an entrance exam to a selectivehigh school far from home. But when tragedy strikes, it will take all of Wen’s resilience and resourcefulness to get herself and Henry through the storm that follows.

Tiger Daughter is a novel that will grab hold of you and not let go.

This was a short but incredibly powerful read.

Wen is a teenage girl living in Australia, born to migrant parents. Her father was a doctor in China but hasn’t passed the surgeon’s exam in Australia and so he works as a manager in a Chinese restaurant and the bitterness about this, is extreme. He runs the household with an iron fist, imposing a lot of rules and regulations – even though she’s a teenager, Wen’s mother still walks her to and from school every day. They are to make no stops on the way and her father rings every day at 4pm to make sure. Wen isn’t allowed to socialist outside of school at all and her free time is taken up with homework, extra lessons and practice: music, Chinese calligraphy, maths (which she struggles with a lot).

Her friend Henry excels at maths but has a lot of trouble with English (both the language and the subject) and Wen is trying to help him improve in both for the entrance exam he desperately wants to sit. Henry sees getting into this school as a kind of magic solution to a lot of their problems and although Wen has agreed to sit it with him and their teacher (who used to teach at the school they’re aiming to get into) thinks they are both excellent chances, Wen hasn’t told her parents. She knows her father would never allow her to go, especially because the school is a considerable distance from her house. But also because as a daughter, she’s a disappointment and he’s quick to tell her that as well as berate her about her lack of intelligence each time she doesn’t understand maths.

There’s so much conveyed here, not just Wen’s experience as the child of immigrants but the story of her parents as well and their struggle to build a new life in a country that is not always friendly. Wen’s father faces chronic disappointment and shame that he’s doing the job he is and I feel that he often takes his frustrations about that out on his family. For the most part, Wen’s mother is cowed, living with the fear as Wen puts it, fear of her father’s temper and outbursts. When a tragedy happens with Henry’s family, at first Wen’s mother wants to keep her distance, not get involved, employing a traditional (I think?) attitude towards it. But Wen won’t accept that and she begs her mother to leave food, to accompany her so she can leave homework for Henry when he cannot leave the house.

These small acts give Wen’s mother some confidence, as does an interaction or two with the lady who runs the local pharmacy. Wen begins to see her mother in a different light I think, to wonder about the person she might have been before she married Wen’s father or before the difficulties of life in a new country. Wen’s mother is capable and has a compassionate side that has perhaps been kept hidden – and despite her words, I get the feeling that she could relate to that tragedy much more than she would ever let on.

It was really wonderful reading about both Wen and her mother empowering themselves, about their small acts of rebellion that lead to opportunity. Wen’s mother is basically trapped in the apartment each day, only allowed out to purchase food and given a strict household budget (that seems to be deliberately not enough, just to see what she can do with it, but that could just be the way I view it). It’s obvious that Wen’s father is so miserable in his job where he deals with micro aggressions and racism, where he has to obviously bite his tongue and “yes sir” his way through it that all that rage and frustration has no where to go but to spill over at home. His reactions to things are incredibly out of proportion to the events and quite frankly, are abusive.

Wen’s inner rage at her restrictions comes through so clearly, as does the ways in which she has to dampen her thoughts and actions down, become less, become more, conform to the ideals of the perfect child. Except she’s not a boy, so she can’t ever be perfect and it’s getting harder and harder for her to hold her tongue, to do as she’s told without questioning. Towards the end, she uses her father’s own lecturing back at him, to prove a point and showcase his own hypocrisy and it’s kind of glorious.

This is not an easy read but I was so engrossed in the story. The thing that pins it all together is Wen’s relationship with her mother and how Wen’s own actions actually give her mother the confidence to rebel in her own ways, to perhaps take back some of who she had been, before her marriage, the move, a country where she isn’t confident in the language. Wen’s mother grows stronger in many ways as her daughter does and perhaps it’s seeing the person her daughter is, that reminds her of who she is.

Not going to lie, the ending felt a fraction easy or quick, but the rest of it was so good that I didn’t mind.

9/10

Book #126 of 2021

This book is the #53rd read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2021

Leave a comment »

Review: The Lady Detective by Ava January

The Lady Detective
Ava January
Escape Publishing
2021, 200p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: London’s lawbreakers and loathsome lords… beware!

How does a wealthy widow avoid the marriage market in 1890s London?

If you’re Lady Theodosia Fortescue-Brown, you hide behind outrageously bad clothing and glasses you don’t need.

After the disappearance of her husband, Theodosia can’t imagine giving up her freedom to marry again and relishes her role as detective to the ladies of the upper echelons of society.

When a priceless necklace on loan from the Royal family is stolen, Theodosia must work with the scandalous Lord Montague to recover it before the theft is discovered.

But somewhere between setting a brothel on fire, being knocked out in a cemetery in the middle of the night, and narrowly avoiding death via Scotch egg, Theodosia and William fall in love…

I really enjoyed this! It was a fun little historical mystery with some romance thrown in.

Lady Theodosia Fortescue-Brown had a less-than-desirable upbringing that was probably common to many young girls during this time, if their father’s were wastrels with a fondness for drink. She was beholden to him until he married her off to the son of their neighbour in a deal that netted him money. Although her husband was kind and treated her well, a real friend to her, theirs was not a romantic marriage. And then her husband went missing, leaving Theodosia at the mercy of her brother-in-law. He’s been very patient but he’s told her that he’s going to need her to vacate the house and that he’ll prepare the Dower residence for her.

This is not what Theodosia wants. She wants to stay in London. She’s developed a little bit of a reputation for herself as a lady detective. She has no wish to marry again and be subject to yet another man although her latest mystery involves searching for a priceless necklace belonging to the Royal Family and she finds the notorious Lord Montague invested in its return as well. He suggests working as a team but Theodosia runs her own race…..but despite declining his offer, she finds their paths crossing on a regular basis.

I loved Theodosia, I thought she was such an interesting character. She disguises a lot about herself, relying on unflattering clothes and glasses she doesn’t need so as not to attract the interest of men. She employs women who would have little chance of employment anywhere else. She’s bright and full of plans and plots and ideas when she’s investigating something and she’s also passionate about women’s welfare and their treatment. I also thought her alter-ego was hilarious.

Lord Montague’s reputation has preceded him and Theodosia is sure she can resist him. After all he’s just another very good looking rake, with the ability to ruin lives with zero consequence, right? But Montague is much more than good looking and the more time Theodosia spends with him, the more she realises that there is a lot more to him than meets the eye. She’s definitely forgetting her resolution not to be charmed and she understands how he might ruin a young debutante – and she’s no impressionable first season girl. But she still doesn’t want to ever be someone’s property again and that reluctance makes her wary to take a step forward with Montague that might lead her to happiness.

I loved Montague – he had this rakish reputation but I really enjoyed how he didn’t really fit that description and his interactions with Theodosia were fantastic. He’s also the more open one of the two of them, in terms of feelings and declarations but he also makes a bit of a mistake which someone is all too happy to inform Theodosia about and that drives a wedge between them and I felt like that conflict was well done. What he did played into Theodosia’s fears too but I felt like there were some extenuating circumstances – but Theodosia just wasn’t in the mindset to hear them.

There were some secondary characters in this book that I felt would make excellent main characters in their own stories, should the author choose to turn this into a bit of a series – especially the man who works for the Home Office and also the man that occasionally does some investigative work for Theodosia trying to find her husband. They didn’t get a lot of page time but the small amount they did was enough to sow some interesting seeds.

8/10

Book #125 of 2021

The Lady Detective is book #52 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021

Leave a comment »

Review: Always The Last To Know by Kristan Higgins

Always The Last To Know
Kristan Higgins
Berkley Books
2020, 400p
Read via my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: The Frosts are a typical American family. Barb and John, married almost fifty years, are testy and bored with each other…who could blame them after all this time? At least they have their daughters– Barb’s favorite, the perfect, brilliant Juliet; and John’s darling, the free-spirited Sadie. The girls themselves couldn’t be more different, but at least they got along, more or less. It was fine. It was enough.

Until the day John had a stroke, and their house of cards came tumbling down.

Now Sadie has to put her career as a teacher and struggling artist in New York on hold to come back and care for her beloved dad–and face the love of her life, whose heart she broke, and who broke hers. Now Juliet has to wonder if people will notice that despite her perfect career as a successful architect, her perfect marriage to a charming Brit, and her two perfect daughters, she’s spending an increasing amount of time in the closet having panic attacks.

And now Barb and John will finally have to face what’s been going on in their marriage all along.

Last week I had a book to pick up at my local library and there were rumours going around that we’d be going into lockdown again so I thought while I was there picking up my reserved book, I’d grab a few others as well. It wasn’t supposed to be a long lockdown, hopefully just a short one to get contacts of positive cases into isolation and allow contact tracers time to find everyone. I always find reading a perfect escape in lockdowns and although I don’t lack books at home, I love having variety. So I walked the fiction shelves and grabbed a few off the display shelf that looked interesting. I’ve read a few Kristan Higgins books before, some I’ve loved, some have been okay and this one looked recent and I didn’t know anything about it but the blurb had me sold.

And I loved this book! I picked it up late that same afternoon and I was sorry I had waited so long because it meant that I didn’t get time to finish it in one day. This is such an excellent study of relationships and family and how different people in the same family just see and experience things very differently.

John and Barb have been married for over fifty years but for a long time, they’ve just really been going through the motions. They suffered years of infertility before Barb fell pregnant with Juliet and motherhood was such a perfect experience for her. Barb and Juliet were a team from the very beginning and she’s Barb’s pride and joy. Sadie came along 12 years later and that was a very different and unexpected experience and she never really felt that she bonded with her the way she did with Juliet. Sadie felt like she was John’s rather than Barb and the two of them never came to see eye to eye, even as Sadie came into adulthood. In contrast, Juliet and Barb just grew closer and closer and Barb couldn’t be prouder of her: Ivy League education, excellent job as an architect, wonderful husband, two beautiful daughters, lives close by. Sadie in contrast, wanted to be an artist, a career Barb didn’t really rate and moved to New York for college and lives in a 1-bedroom apartment. Not married, no children. Barb feels like she can’t relate to Sadie and their relationship is very distant. Sadie and John however, remain incredibly close and John’s stroke brings Sadie home in a way that Barb suspects an accident to her would not.

This is told from multiple perspectives: Barb’s, Juliet’s, Sadie’s and even John’s as he recovers from his stroke and tries to make sense of things with a mind that is no longer what it was. I really loved reading from these different perspectives and seeing how Sadie viewed her relationship with Barb vs how Barb saw her relationship with Sadie and the factors that both thought had contributed to this. I thought this was done so well, likewise we get the same sort of insight into Juliet and Sadie’s relationship. With 12 years between them they’ve never been particularly close and both feel certain ways about the other: Sadie nicknames Juliet “Perfection from Conception” due to their mother’s feelings about Juliet and Juliet feels that Sadie just sails through life and things work out for her, she never has to work for anything.

Being back in her hometown also brings Sadie back into the orbit of her teenage/college boyfriend, a man who broke her heart (and whose heart she broke) when they couldn’t see a way forward with their incompatible dreams and lifestyles. I really enjoyed Sadie and Noah. None of their issues from years ago have been resolved (and their are several other complications) but there are still residual feelings and the way this played out felt really believable. Especially with Sadie’s recognition of what she wants versus what she can actually have.

I just found this so engrossing on all levels – all of the characters were interesting and the way in which their different perspectives were shown were just such an insight into family dynamics and their complications. Likewise we get a lot of insight into the marriage of John and Barb (mostly from Barb, as John is less capable of deep reflection) but there’s enough from both sides, to show how marriages can stall, how things like struggling with infertility (which is often a struggle Barb feels like she faces alone) and differing parenting roles, can play a part in driving distance between a couple.

This was an excellent start to my lockdown 5.0 reading.

9/10

Book #224 of 2021

Leave a comment »

Review: The Boy From The Mish by Gary Lonesborough

The Boy From The Mish
Gary Lonesborough
Allen & Unwin
2021, 288p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: A funny and heart-warming queer Indigenous YA novel, set in a rural Australian community, about seventeen-year-old Jackson finding the courage to explore who he is, even if it scares him.

‘I don’t paint so much anymore,’ I say, looking to my feet.

‘Oh. Well, I got a boy who needs to do some art. You can help him out,’ Aunty Pam says, like I have no say in the matter, like she didn’t hear what I just said about not painting so much anymore. ‘Jackson, this is Tomas. He’s living with me for a little while.’ 

It’s a hot summer, and life’s going all right for Jackson and his family on the Mish. It’s almost Christmas, school’s out, and he’s hanging with his mates, teasing the visiting tourists, avoiding the racist boys in town. Just like every year, Jackson’s Aunty and annoying little cousins visit from the city – but this time a mysterious boy with a troubled past comes with them… As their friendship evolves, Jackson must confront the changing shapes of his relationships with his friends, family and community. And he must face his darkest secret – a secret he thought he’d locked away for good. 

I really enjoyed this book – the other night I was scrolling Borrow Box late at night, looking for a few reads that were different to what I had on my shelves and this one ticked a few boxes I was interested in exploring. It has an Aboriginal main character (actually pretty much all the characters are) and is written by an Aboriginal author. The main character is also questioning many things about themselves, so there’s some other representation as well.

So, Jackson has finished year 11 and summer holidays stretch in front of him on the “Mish” where he lives with his mother and brother. His friends and girlfriend also live on the Mish as well and Jackson’s Aunt is about to arrive from Sydney with a barrage of cousins as they do every summer. Jackson isn’t interested in going back to school but his mother has made it very clear that if he doesn’t he’ll be getting himself a job. School is a minefield of racism and micro aggressions and Jackson has definitely found some trouble there in recent times. To complicate matters, when his Aunt arrives, she brings someone unexpected – Tomas is Koori like them all, around his age and fresh out of juvie. And making Jackson wonder a lot of things about himself.

Jackson and his friends are living a typical Australian summer lifestyle – parties, swimming, the beach, the carnival that comes to town each year. Jackson has a girlfriend but things are not exactly good there as Jackson has been having a few issues in the…physical department. Issues that may be more explained when Tomas arrives with his aunt and gives Jackson many more thoughts.

Jackson is torn over his feelings because he definitely fears how other people, especially his friends and even his mother, will perceive him should he be honest with them and himself about how he feels. He wants to explore but he also wants it to be kept very secret and is often terrified of others finding out. A lot of this book is about Jackson coming to terms with who he really is and how that relates to his Aboriginality and the views of those around him on the Mish. Jackson has definitely been suppressing thoughts and feelings he’s had for a little while now, having made a decision to ‘not be like that’ and to invest in a future that looks a certain way: marrying, having children, etc. But the arrival of Tomas definitely shakes those determinations.

I really liked Jackson and Tomas together, they’re thrown into this situation of sharing a room when Jackson was not expecting an older teen to be part of the crew. They have to get to know each other and this is definitely complicated for Jackson by some of this thoughts and feelings being more than friendly. He tries to hide it but Tomas is interested too, which gives Jackson the sort of thoughts about what this might lead to. How it could be. It’s different to his girlfriend for sure, giving him more clarity of who he is but it’s not something he adjusts to right away. He doesn’t really want to face this aspect of himself or take it public just yet. This causes some tension with Tomas, because who wants to be a secret? Hidden away like it’s something to be ashamed of? But Jackson has to come to terms with this himself, before he feels like he can be exposed in that way to people he cares about.

Jackson and his friends also have “run-ins” with some of the local white teens as well as the cops, who are quick to flick the lights on and pull them over for any perceived misbehaviour. This book shows how teens of colour can and are targeted and how when they are the subject of racist abuse and retaliate, they are often the ones who wear the penalty with the aggressors going unpunished. Jackson’s mother is always telling him to walk away, to not react, to not give anyone else the satisfaction of him reacting exactly as (white) people would predict he would. But Jackson is still young and hotheaded and reacting to abuse and discrimination and racism by lashing out and wanting to defend himself and teach the aggressors a lesson.

This is really fantastic own-voices story telling.

8/10

Book #123 of 2021

Leave a comment »

Review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity (Code Name Verity #3)
Elizabeth Wein
Hyperion
2013 (originally 2012), 332p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Oct. 11th, 1943-A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it’s barely begun.

When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.

As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy? 

I am so late to this party. In fact, when I added this book to my goodreads, it showed me that I had originally listed it under wishlist/TBR in 2012! So 9 years later, I finally got around to reading it after hearing so many people say how much they loved it and seeing it mentioned among lots of people’s favourite books.

When this book begins, a woman has been captured by the Gestapo in France for looking the wrong way when crossing the street, indicating that she’s probably from Britain. She has faced quite a long period of torture and freely admits to telling those interrogating her, a lot of things, much to the chagrin of her fellow captives. She has negotiated a deal – she’ll write down all she knows about British airfields, missions, training operatives, equipment etc and well, she’ll live a little while longer. And maybe she will get a quick death, instead of being subject to experiments or worked and starved to death in a camp. But also, maybe she won’t.

The young woman weaves her story in with another – the pilot of the crippled plane she had to parachute out of. It’s a story of friendship and how two women from very different backgrounds met and forged this friendship when, without the war, they’d probably never have crossed paths, nor built up this friendship. Recruited to the war effort for skills in flying and in languages, the two women end up in dangerous places, sometimes doing dangerous things that they cannot talk about, even to each other. They understand each other, and find ways to be supportive even when they can’t really unburden themselves.

I loved the way this was told. It doesn’t seem to have worked for everyone, but it really did for me. The way in which the story is written, a story within a story and the fact that a lot of the information is alluded to rather than bluntly described. We know how much trauma and torture “Verity” has experienced but she rarely makes more than a passing comment about it. Somehow those comments are just as chilling as if it were described in detail. And anyone who has read anything about the Nazis knows what they were capable of, your mind fills in the rest.

I appreciated the way this story went in terms of making you think one thing about what Verity is saying and doing, before it flips it on its head later on. The narrative changes about 3/4 of the way through and everything slowly starts to recalibrate and you realise how clever Verity was, how well she thought on the fly, even after everything she’d been through. And what she was really doing there and what she was prepared to do in order for it to go ahead, even with her having been captured.

For me, this definitely lived up to everything I’ve heard about it and I got the read that I was expecting. I found myself hooked from the first page, invested in “Verity” and whether or not she might somehow, miraculously escape the fate that seemed to be waiting for her, seeing as she’d been captured. She is like a WWII Scheherazade, bargaining more time with tales of what she knows and she’s also not afraid to sometimes add in a dig to her German captors either. I definitely wondered at her tactic but the further I got into it, the more I needed to know and the more the book surprised me. Especially when the little connections began to make themselves known and I realised who certain people were and who they were connected to. I enjoyed the part that featured the French resistance and the work they were doing getting people in and out of France and the various missions and acts of sabotage they were involved in. It was satisfying to read, even when it came with heartbreak.

I ended up finishing this late at night, when I don’t usually read, because I had to know what happened and how it ended. It’s definitely the sort of book you want to read in a single sitting, the fate of these characters becomes something you get so invested in, even though I think on a deeper level, you know that it’s so unlikely that there’s going to be a fairytale ending. The ending is rough, in a lot of ways, but it’s the ultimate act.

Definitely need to read the others.

9/10

Book #121 of 2021

This is book #24 of my Historical Fiction Reading Challenge for 2021

Leave a comment »

Review: Talk Bookish To Me by Kate Bromley

Talk Bookish To Me
Kate Bromley
Zaffre
2021, 326p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Inspiration can come from the most unlikely – and inconvenient – sources.

Kara Sullivan’s life is full of love – albeit fictional. As a best-selling romance novelist and influential Bookstagrammer, she’s fine with getting her happily-ever-after fix between the covers of a book. 

But right now? Not only is Kara’s best friend getting married next week – which means big wedding stress – but the deadline for her next novel is looming, and she hasn’t written a single word. The last thing she needs is for her infuriating first love, Ryan Thompson, to suddenly appear in the wedding party. But Ryan’s unexpected arrival sparks a creative awakening in Kara that inspires the steamy historical romance she desperately needs to deliver. 

With her wedding duties intensifying, her deadline getting closer by the second and her bills not paying themselves, Kara knows there’s only one way for her to finish her book and to give her characters the ever-after they deserve. But can she embrace the unlikely, ruggedly handsome muse—who pushes every one of her buttons—to save the wedding, her career and, just maybe, write her own happy ending?

******Please beware that this entire review will contain SPOILERS******

I don’t often write reviews that are riddled with spoilers but for me, it’s really hard to talk about this one without addressing several things in the plot that I think are definitely a dealbreaker for a lot of readers, particularly those that are romance lovers. I’ve read a lot of romance in my time and this book contains something that had I known about it going in, I’d never have read it. And even though I didn’t like this book anyway before that….it definitely made it irredeemable and unsalvageable as a read for me.

Kara is about 30, she’s an author who is experiencing writers block. About to be maid of honour for her best friend, she’s horrified (or is she?) when the best man turns out to be her old college boyfriend, whom she broke up with in acrimonious circumstances about 10 years ago, when she was 20 and he was 22. She believed Ryan was cheating on her, if not physically, then definitely emotionally during a long distance period in their relationship when he’d graduated and moved for work.

I hated Ryan. He’s one of those smarmy characters that’s supposed to be charming but for me, he was just a complete jerk. He shames Kara for reading romance, both in the past when they meet in college and in the present day. He calls it “literary porn” and basically insinuates it’s all the same and even though he doesn’t suggest only those lacking in intelligence would continue reading the same book, it’s generally what people mean when they say that. The two of them are toxic in their first interactions upon reintroduction and I honestly couldn’t understand why Kara’s best friend was attempting to throw them together in ways that were both rude and stupid. She seemed to think that these people who hadn’t seen each other in ten years and had broken up in very upsetting and hurtful circumstances, were “exuding a vibe” or something. It was ridiculous. And then because seeing Ryan means Kara is able to write one chapter of the book that’s due very soon that she’s been completely blocked on, she invites Ryan to stay with her in her one bedroom apartment with his dog when he’s thrown out of his hotel. This is despite all the words coming out of her mouth are that she doesn’t want to spend time with him or be reminded of him and what happened. Not only are there break up feels but it’s also tied up in her father’s death and Kara is very messed up over that still. Then Kara is immature and arranges to go out on a date…..which Ryan then crashes and I hate things like this because this sort of behaviour is not normal and should never be accepted as such.

Yikes. Oh God, yikes. Honestly, this would probably have been enough for a poor rating, because Ryan is awful, Kara is spineless and her friends are pushy and disrespectful. But after they “get back together” because the chemistry/feelings haven’t gone away, Kara discovers in the worst possible way, that Ryan oops, forgot to mention that he’s engaged. To the woman she once thought he was cheating on her with, ten years ago. This renders Kara the ‘other woman’ and I cannot properly express the howl of rage this induced and if I hadn’t been reading this on an iPad, I’d have hurled this book at the nearest wall. For me, cheating is a hard no and the side characters do utter backflips to justify it, one of Kara’s friends even basically telling her “it’s okay, he didn’t cheat on you.” What in the actual fuck is that? Girl, if he did it with you, he’ll do it to you. We’re supposed to just ignore this poor other character (who never did anything wrong because they actually weren’t involved many years ago) and accept that Ryan and Kara have some sort of higher love that transcends other commitments. Oh to the hell no. Ryan is such a garbage human that he equates the secret he kept with the fact that Kara booked a 6 month sabbatical in Italy to write her next novel twelve months before he came into her life again and didn’t mention it immediately. One of these things is not like the other Ryan. Also Ryan didn’t speak to his dad for ten years after he cheated on Ryan’s mother…..and then cheated on his fiancé with Kara. Hello hypocrisy. And although it’s made clear that Ryan didn’t physically cheat on Kara ten years ago, I don’t think the emotional aspect of it is adequately addressed and seems best forgotten because of the fact there was no physical activity. But he was clearly pulling away from Kara and choosing this other person to confide in and spend time in (and stay at her house).

Kara goes to Italy and meets someone else and I thought, it would 100% redeem this book for me if she fell in love with this dude and forgot all about Ryan but, alas no. She gets some counselling from her friend who tells her that it was fine, Ryan explains why he did what he did and also, he was totally Kara’s first and he didn’t cheat on her like I mentioned above. Her other friend interferes as well and these two starstruck lovers are reunited. Bless.

Public Service Announcement: If he cheats on you or with you, he’s still a cheater.

Also I got so mad that I forgot to mention the fatshaming which is also gross.

A huge nope for me.

2/10 (solely for the argument Kara makes to Ryan to express how her reading different romance novels are like him watching different baseball games. The only part of the book I felt was well written or made any sense).

Book #112 of 2021

4 Comments »

Review: The Intimacy Experiment by Rosie Danan

The Intimacy Experiment (The Roommate #2)
Rosie Danan
Piatkus
2021, 336p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Naomi and Ethan will test the boundaries of love in this provocative romance from the author of the ground-breaking debut, The Roommate.

Naomi Grant has built her life around going against the grain. After the sex-positive start-up she cofounded becomes an international sensation, she wants to extend her educational platform to live lecturing. Unfortunately, despite her long list of qualifications, higher ed won’t hire her.

Ethan Cohen has recently received two honors: LA Mag named him one of the city’s hottest bachelors and he became rabbi of his own synagogue. Taking a gamble in an effort to attract more millennials to the faith, the executive board hired Ethan because of his nontraditional background. Unfortunately, his shul is low on both funds and congregants. The board gives him three months to turn things around or else they’ll close the doors of his synagogue for good.

Naomi and Ethan join forces to host a buzzy seminar series on Modern Intimacy, the perfect solution to their problems–until they discover a new one–their growing attraction to each other. They’ve built the syllabus for love’s latest experiment, but neither of them expected they’d be the ones putting it to the test.

I’m not sure where I first heard about this – I think on a Goodreads list of romance books out this year. It immediately sounded like my thing, so much so that I bought it almost immediately, even though I hadn’t read the first book, which I pretty much never do. I definitely love a good opposites attract and can you get much more opposite than a sex-worker who now runs a sex-positive website and a Jewish Rabbi? I especially love opposites attract when the woman is the more sexually dominant or experienced partner and the male character is referred to as “buttoned up” or conservative or repressed. It’s just a dynamic that I really enjoy reading as a lot of romance often tends to feature quite dominant Alpha males, so books that flip that are interesting to me.

This started off really well – Naomi is a former sex-worker who has made porn films and who has now moved into starting a website which features a lot of content about pleasure and getting what people want out of intimacy, particularly through the female gaze and experience. Parts of it are subscription only and Naomi is now looking to move into a lecturing or academic role but her previous employment means she keeps getting knocked back from roles she applies for. She meets Ethan at a national teaching conference and he offers her a platform – but it’s at his synagogue. A series on Modern Intimacy, which he thinks might bring in a new, younger crowd to his dwindling-in-popularity place of worship. Ethan is only in his thirties, he was a physics teacher before he got the calling to study to become a Rabbi. Both Naomi and Ethan find the other immensely not and although Naomi at first rejects Ethan’s offer, for several reasons, she ends up changing her mind.

My issue is, it felt like this book promised one thing but very much delivered something else. I wanted some scintillating chemistry, some real opposites attract, maybe even some angst about whether or not a former sex-worker and a Rabbi could make it work, and the prejudice such a pairing might bring. And I did get one of those things…..there was quite a bit about the last part of that but I feel like the ball was definitely dropped on the others. For the most part, Ethan and Naomi did not have chemistry. They spent a lot of time thinking about how hot the other one was but there was very little in the way of moments to show their attraction to each other, to ramp up that sexual tension. Although I appreciate the time the author took to show Ethan and Naomi connecting as friends and building something, honestly, the physical side in this book was sorely lacking. They don’t kiss until after the halfway point and there’s one (quite lacklustre) sex scene. For all Naomi’s sexual and pleasure positivity, we don’t get to see it in action. In fact, she kind of gets cold feet about being intimate with Ethan, because for her, I think this is different and there are some feelings involved – and she can’t see a future with his job, I don’t think.

I really liked Ethan and I liked the idea of Naomi – I liked her attitude about a lot of things, although there were times when I did find her a bit of a contradiction. Not that that’s a bad thing at all, it was just sometimes she didn’t seem to react in ways that I would expect someone of her described personality to react. But there was something about this that just didn’t translate to a fun read for me. It was interesting to read about the Jewish religion and even though I’m not Jewish, or at all religious, I liked Ethan and the way he went about his job. It didn’t feel particularly preachy, even though Ethan often delivers what might be called sermons, just in casual conversation! And it was great to read about modern Jewish relationships and the idea of modern intimacy (mostly if I come across Jewish characters in fiction, it’s WWII historical fiction) but so often I wanted more from the scenes between Ethan and Naomi. It felt like they should’ve shimmered with tension and that push-pull factor but they were so lacklustre. It was like they were just two friends chatting most of the time, and if each of them didn’t keep musing in their heads how hot the other one was and how they wanted this or that, honestly, you’d not know. There was nothing in their interactions. And the one sex scene felt very disappointing, paint-by-numbers writing and just….boring. And it felt like it was such a long time coming in the book and was such a letdown. Also this just felt like it really dragged in places, and nothing could move along at an organic pace because it was like Ethan and Naomi only moved along to coincide with the lectures in modern intimacy that she was presenting, so things just had to stagnate until the next lecture, which meant that a lot of the time, the book felt like it was spinning in circles.

Loved the idea, just did not at all enjoy the execution.

5/10

Book #110 of 2021

Leave a comment »

Review: Love In English by Maria E. Andreu

Love In English
Maria E. Andreu
Balzer + Bray
2021, 336p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Sixteen-year-old Ana has just moved to New Jersey from Argentina for her Junior year of high school. She’s a poet and a lover of language—except that now, she can barely understand what’s going on around her, let alone find the words to express how she feels in the language she’s expected to speak.

All Ana wants to do is go home—until she meets Harrison, the very cute, very American boy in her math class. And then there’s her new friend Neo, the Greek boy she’s partnered up with in ESL class, who she bonds with over the 80s teen movies they are assigned to watch for class (but later keep watching together for fun), and Altagracia, her artistic and Instagram-fabulous friend, who thankfully is fluent in Spanish and able to help her settle into American high school. 

But is it possible that she’s becoming too American—as her father accuses—and what does it mean when her feelings for Harrison and Neo start to change? Ana will spend her year learning that the rules of English may be confounding, but there are no rules when it comes to love.

With playful and poetic breakouts exploring the idiosyncrasies of the English language, Love in English tells a story that is simultaneously charming and romantic, while articulating a deeper story about what it means to become “American.”

I thought this was a cute read.

I think since I read a particular book this month, I’ve just been craving contemporary romance of any type – YA, adult, doesn’t matter. I’ve just been in the mood for that sort of read and I don’t really have much on my shelves that fit that bill (because I’ve read them all) so I went looking on my library’s app for a few to read in between review books and help feed the craving!

Ana has just moved from Argentina to the US – she’s 16 and her dad has been in the US for 3 years getting ready for the arrival of her and her mother. Now that she’s here, she’s trying to get used to how different everything is. She’s been taking English classes but that’s not the same as being around native English speakers and trying to decipher everything they say as well as their meaning. She’s enrolled in an ESL class at school and naively assumes that everyone else in that class will speak Spanish but in fact, I think she’s the only one. The others come from a variety of backgrounds and speak many different languages. Ana becomes friends with Neo, from Greece and they use translation apps to communicate when their English doesn’t always give them the words they need. Their fun teacher assigns them some classic 80s American movies as “homework” and Ana and Neo end up watching these together. Ana likes Neo but she also is drawn to a boy in her maths class who embodies everything that is American and seems to personify the sort of life she should be aiming for, now that she lives in the US.

I think this did a great job of showing Ana’s struggle with fitting in – a lot of the time, when people are speaking to her in the book, half of what they say shows up as hashtags, indicating Ana hasn’t understood or heard that portion of the conversation. In reading it, it really gave the reader an idea of what it might be like to only understand a percentage of everything that is said to you. She has to kind of fill in the gaps of what she’s missed herself, just guess what she might’ve not understood. Sometimes this works, other times she misunderstands and doesn’t get it right – some of the time that leads to ridicule from her fellow classmates. Ana wrote poems in her native Spanish and her ESL teacher encourages her to write them in English, telling her she’s a poet in any language and this is something that helps her I think – the ESL students are given a notebook to write down English words and ideas in, things they hear or come across and I really loved that idea!

Ana does make some friends but she also has to deal with the fact that her father last saw her when she was 13 and now she’s 16 and living in an entirely different country (that was his idea) where things are quite different to how they were back home. He cannot expect her to live as she did back in that country when he’s dragged her to a new and different one. He also cannot continue to treat her as someone who isn’t any older than the last time he saw her and the two of them definitely have to navigate this new situation and find a compromise that works for them both.

There’s a bit of a love triangle here and I didn’t love that portion of it as I felt Ana didn’t treat either of the boys particularly well. But it was part of her struggle with what she wanted versus what she thought she should want now that she’s living in America, so I feel like that part was articulated quite well, even if I didn’t agree with the way she went about things. And she’s only 16 and navigating this stuff for the first time, she’s going to make mistakes.

6/10

Book #109 of 2021

Leave a comment »

Review: The Long Long Afternoon by Inga Vesper

The Long Long Afternoon
Inga Vesper
Manilla Press
2021, 400p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: It’s the summer of 1959, and the well-trimmed lawns of Sunnylakes wilt under the California sun.

At some point during the long, long afternoon Joyce Haney, a seemingly happy housewife and mother, vanishes from her home, leaving behind only two terrified young children and a bloodstain on the kitchen floor.

With the stifling heat of Tangerine and the gripping pace of Little Deaths, The Long, Long Afternoon is at once a page-turning mystery and an intoxicating vision of the ways in which women everywhere are diminished, silenced and, ultimately, underestimated.

I saw this book highlighted in the newsletter of a local bookstore and it sounded really interesting. I was surprised to see it available on Borrow Box, the app my local library uses for eBook borrowing. It was during the most recent Melbourne lockdown and although my library was open for pick up, I definitely used the app more than I had in recent times to borrow some eBooks.

Ruby, hired help of Joyce Haney arrives one afternoon to work and finds Joyce’s young daughter outside, on her own. When she goes inside, the baby is crying in her crib and needs changing. Joyce is no where to be seen – and when Ruby enters the kitchen she finds only blood. She calls the police and is immediately arrested because she’s a black woman, despite the fact that she was working at another home in the neighbourhood just prior to arriving at the Haneys house and the fact that she alerted the authorities.

Mick is a detective new in this town in California, after a bit of a problem in Brooklyn. The Chief makes it clear that he’s not particularly happy with Mick’s appearance and he’s given the case of the disappearance of Joyce and told that if he messes up, that’ll be it. Mick has to deal with the fact that the first on scene have clearly arrested the wrong person. Ruby has no reason to trust police anyway and she’s even less likely to be forthcoming now that she’s been arrested for reporting her employer as missing.

What happened to Joyce Haney? A seemingly perfect life with a beautiful home, two adorable children and a successful husband. How did she disappear and why? The more Mick investigates, the more he finds strange things that don’t add up….and evidence that this perfect life, was anything but.

I enjoyed this. It’s told from differing points of view: Joyce, Ruby and Mick, the detective, the three perspectives helping to flesh out the story and provide information from different angles and perspectives. It’s a very traditional neighbourhood in many ways – mum, dad, children. Dad works, mum stays at home and looks after the little ones, does the shopping and cooks and cleans – unless they can afford some help, like the Haneys can. Ruby comes to clean – not just Joyce’s house but she also works at a home nearby, lived in by a friend of Joyce’s, who is perhaps a widow or a divorcee, I’m not entirely sure. The day in question, Ruby is just a little late, kept back by Laura, her other employer, who definitely doesn’t treat her the way Joyce does.

There’s a real juxtaposition between Joyce and Ruby. Joyce is a housewife, married to Frank, who has a successful job and they have a lovely home and can afford the help. Joyce is given an allowance for the groceries and other bits and pieces she needs. Ruby works for 40 cents an hour cleaning for people like Joyce, catching the bus from her neighbourhood. She desperately wants to go to college and become a teacher but needs a huge amount of money. In her neighbourhood, things are simmering – racial tensions and rights and Ruby’s boyfriend makes it clear that when Joyce vanishes, she should stay out. No good can come of her giving a cop any information, especially after she was already arrested without reason and held in jail simply for being the one who discovered Joyce was missing. If it wasn’t for Mick and his diffusing of the situation, Ruby could well have found herself charged and convicted for something she didn’t do.

I enjoyed each of the points of view – Joyce as we negotiate her life and the trapped way it’s making her feel, Ruby and her dreams and the complications in working for people who either do not see her at all or see her as someone to be wary of, even as she’s cleaning their home. Only Joyce seemed to treat her with any respect, which is why Ruby desperately does want to help Mick find out what happened to her, even though she’s warned against being involved. And Mick has something to prove and the deeper he digs into Joyce’s life, the more complex things become and the more that doesn’t add up. But it isn’t Mick who ends up putting the pieces together – he just has to make sure he figures it out before someone loses their life.

This simmers really well with undercurrents – marital discord, toxic friendships, struggling relationships, racial tensions and police bias. It was very enjoyable and I found myself coming really invested with what had happened to Joyce and the why and the how. The story got more complex with some unexpected players but I think when you got to a certain point, it fell into place and the reader could see what had happened.

Well paced and enjoyable with enough suspense to keep me hooked.

7/10

Book #105 of 2021

The Long Long Afternoon is book #22 of the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge for 2021

Leave a comment »