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 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: 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 »

Review: One Hundred Days by Alice Pung

One Hundred Days
Alice Pung
Black Inc. Books
2021, 288p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: One day, a boy in a nice silver car gives sixteen-year-old Karuna a ride. So Karuna returns the favour. 

Eventually, Karuna can’t ignore the reality: she is pregnant. Incensed, her mother, already over-protective, confines her to their fourteenth-storey housing-commission flat for one hundred days, to protect her from the outside world – and make sure she can’t get into any more trouble. Stuck inside for endless hours, Karuna battles her mother and herself for a sense of power in her own life, as a new life forms and grows within her. 

One Hundred Days is a fractured fairytale exploring the fault lines between love and control. At times tense and claustrophobic, it also brims with humour, warmth and character. It is a magnificent new work from one of Australia’s most celebrated writers.

This book gave me claustrophobia.

And I mean that in the best possible way that someone could mean that.

Karuna is a teenager, living with her mother, after her parents separate, in a block of housing flats. Her mother is from the Phillipines, very strict and determined that Karuna live her life a certain way, adhering to her suffocating rules. Karuna cannot help but act out and when her mother sends her along to some sort of tutoring group in the school holidays, she meets a boy on his way to university and one thing leads to another in the back of his car. By the time her mother discovers that she’s pregnant, Karuna is pretty far along.

This was so frustrating to read sometimes. Karuna is so dominated by her forceful mother, always has been. Her mother has a lot of traditional ideas from her own country that don’t translate so well for a teen growing up in Australia and ever since she can remember, Karuna has been subject to her mother’s views on beauty and what she should do in order to preserve it. Her mother’s disappointment and shame about the pregnancy is palpable and she immediately takes over, ordering Karuna to do this or that, locking her in the apartment and saying that once it’s born, she will assume the role of the baby’s mother and Karuna its sister, so that she can go back to school and get the education her mother so wants her to have.

Karuna’s mother is a very controlling person and some of her treatment borders on abuse – well actually, I think crosses the line into abuse. Not just her words, but some of her actions, especially later on after the baby is born. Her determination that Karuna do everything as she wants it done, not listening to anything Karuna has to say, assuming that she cannot take care of this baby, using the argument that she was careless enough to get pregnant, she could not possibly be responsible enough for another human. Karuna’s frustration and feeling of being trapped is so well constructed on the page that reading this gave me a sort of anxiety, like I was experiencing what she was. Like I was feeling trapped, just as Karuna was in a small apartment, subject to her mother’s commands and whims. Some of the things she wants Karuna to do in terms of traditional things that must be observed either during pregnancy or after the birth for some reason or other due to her traditions, are very difficult for Karuna to accept because they are very different to the way things are done here in Australia, where she’s been raised. Karuna wants the chance to take care of this baby but in order to do so, she’s going to have to find the courage to stand up to her mother – and overcome a lifetime of domination.

The thing that makes this book so well done is that yes, you can’t help but feel for Karuna and want her to triumph, to find her voice. But it’s not just as simple as the fact that her mother is controlling or abusive because she wants to hurt Karuna. She doesn’t. I think she’s really trying the best she can to protect her or to make things easier for her in life, in the ways that she thinks will work. She is well-meaning, even when she’s saying things that sound horrible or trying to restrict Karuna in different ways. But she doesn’t explain things so for Karuna, it’s difficult to see anything other than just rules for the sake of rules and criticism for the sake of criticism. She demands unquestioning obedience and even though there are things that come to light late in the book, it’s after a lot of stuff that really makes the reader want to help Karuna. To protect her. To give her the chance to live her own life, whatever choices she may make, be it going back to school voluntarily or taking some time to spend with her newborn child, to establish that bonding and enjoy those early, special moments.

The way that Alice Pung writes about new motherhood, especially new teen motherhood, is really something else. It’s so beautifully done – Karuna goes through a lot of emotions, from sort of pretending that her pregnancy isn’t happening, to deciding what she wants to do, to feeling fiercely protective of her child and resentful of her mother for wanting to take that from her. Karuna clings to ideals and her ideas about her father and her mother and she does have her thoughts realigned throughout the course of the novel and it ends in a way that made me somewhat hopeful for her future. And her child’s.

Really well done – but a tough read. Do not read it if you’re in lockdown!

8/10

Book #104 of 2021

One Hundred Days is book #44 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021

Leave a comment »

Review: The Stationery Shop Of Tehran by Marjan Kamali

The Stationery Shop Of Tehran
Marjan Kamali
Simon & Schuster UK
2019, 308p
Read via my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Roya, a dreamy, idealistic teenager living amid the political upheaval of 1953 Tehran, finds a literary oasis in kindly Mr. Fakhri’s neighborhood stationery shop, stocked with books and pens and bottles of jewel-colored ink.

Then Mr. Fakhri, with a keen instinct for a budding romance, introduces Roya to his other favorite customer—handsome Bahman, who has a burning passion for justice and a love for Rumi’s poetry—and she loses her heart at once. Their romance blossoms, and the little stationery shop remains their favorite place in all of Tehran.

A few short months later, on the eve of their marriage, Roya agrees to meet Bahman at the town square when violence erupts—a result of the coup d’etat that forever changes their country’s future. In the chaos, Bahman never shows. For weeks, Roya tries desperately to contact him, but her efforts are fruitless. With a sorrowful heart, she moves on—to college in California, to another man, to a life in New England—until, more than sixty years later, an accident of fate leads her back to Bahman and offers her a chance to ask him the questions that have haunted her for more than half a century: Why did you leave? Where did you go? How is it that you were able to forget me?

I think I first saw this in a YouTube video and whoever I was watching at the time was singing its praises, like it was the greatest love story they’d ever read. It sounded really good and I’m in the mood for love stories, even ones that are full of obstacles and my library had this available and I was able to pick it up whilst we were in lockdown. It’s set in Tehran, in Iran beginning in the 1950s when Iran was right on the precipice of a change. Roya is a young woman who loves literature and she meets Bahman, a young idealist in a book/stationery store. It’s attraction at first sight that blossoms into love and the two become engaged to be married, despite his mother’s clear disapproval. She’s long had someone picked out for Bahman and she doesn’t approve of Roya at all.

As the country becomes more unstable, Bahman vanishes and the two communicate through letters. He asks Roya to meet him in a city square and she becomes caught up in violence – and Bahman never shows. Shortly after, Roya’s father arranges for his daughters to move to America and study at an American university. He dreams of them becoming the next Madame Curie or something similar. Roya moves across the world to a different culture and there, she meets Walter, an all-American boy from Boston and introduces him to her food. But for Roya….Bahman is never forgotten and in her seventies, she gets the chance to get the answers she craves about his not turning up in that city square, all those years ago.

I thought this was quite sweet but I didn’t fall in love with it. I think it needed more in the beginning, more of Roya and Bahman, showing their connection and how they fell in love. I know they’re young and it was a different time but it felt quite fast and in some ways, like they barely knew each other. Bahman was an idealist, a supporter of the Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh but there are those who seek to overthrow him (the book skims over who is really behind that which is probably one of the most interesting things about it). Roya’s father is also a Mosaddegh supporter and this forms a large part of his approval of the marriage, although Bahman’s mother is deeply against and makes that quite known. The reasons for her disapproval are revealed later in the book and she does become a somewhat sympathetic figure for some reasons.

I thought the part in Tehran was rich and painted a fantastic picture of what life was like – the country was teetering on the brink of something. Roya and her sister were somewhat lucky that her father was progressive and wanted to see them be able to study and they were able to leave Iran pretty much at the beginning of the coup that would remove Mosaddegh and escape to America where they both ended up settling permanently. I also thought that the book could’ve delved more deeply into what it was like for the two of them to move to somewhere that was completely different, but the university years are glossed over and more attention is paid to Roya meeting Walter and cooking him some of her food. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy that – I did. Quite a lot. The descriptions are wonderful and for Roya, food is the way she remains connected to her culture. She finds a lot of American food unappetising and very different from what she is familiar with. This isn’t a long book and maybe it’s in what isn’t said or shown but I felt there were opportunities for more and they weren’t taken, which made Roya almost a distant sort of character to read about.

This was a nice read but I expected it to evoke more feelings.

6/10

Book #102 of 2021

This book is the 21st book for the 2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

Leave a comment »

Review: How It All Blew Up by Arvin Ahmadi

How It All Blew Up
Arvin Ahmadi
Hot Key Books
2020, 290p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Eighteen-year-old Amir Azadi always knew that coming out to his Muslim family would be messy, but he wasn’t expecting it to end in an airport interrogation room. Now, he’s telling his side of the story to the stern-faced officer.

Amir has to explain why he ran away to Rome (boys, bullies, blackmail) and what he was doing there for a month (dates in the Sistine Chapel, friends who helped him accept who he is, and, of course, drama) . . . all while his mum, dad and little sister are being interrogated in the room next door.

A nuanced take on growing up brown, Muslim and gay in today’s America, HOW IT ALL BLEW UP is the story of one boy’s struggle to come out to his family, and how that painful process exists right alongside his silly, sexy romp through Italy. 

I came across this on my library’s eBook app and it looked like it would be interesting. It was a quick read and there were parts of it I enjoyed and thought were well done, however there were other parts that didn’t work as well for me.

Amir is about to graduate from high school but then finds himself being blackmailed by someone in his class. If he doesn’t pay them money, they’ll out him as gay to his parents. Rather than face up to this or attempt to deal with it, Amir’s answer is to run away and board a plane to Rome because he sees gelato at the airport.

Not long after landing in Rome, he finds himself meeting a group of men who draw him into their circle – they’re all good looking, a bit older than Amir and live these seemingly glamorous lives filled with social engagements and complex relationships. For Amir, it’s a revelation to see people being so openly gay and he definitely develops crushes on some of them.

Amir’s family are Muslim but do not seem to be very devout and religion doesn’t particularly play a role in this book. Amir’s hesitations about coming out to his family are more about culture and that upbringing and opinions that his parents have. He’s pretty convinced they will disown him so he seems to decide that the best thing to do is simply run away and leave any of that behind.

The book is told in an interesting fashion, where the family are (presumably) being interrogated by some sort of organisation back in America after they get into an argument on the plane when Amir’s family turn up in Rome to fetch him back home. They are obviously pulled in for such questioning because they are angry brown people shouting on a plane, making all the white people nervous and Amir has to explain to the person why they were arguing and to do that he takes them (and the reader) back to ‘where/how it all began’. We also get glimpses into other rooms where his family members are being questioned separately: Amir’s father has already been questioned once before when he travelled with chemicals for work, and his mother and minor sister are being questioned together.

I liked the idea of the story being told to someone, with contributing opinions from others in the family but the idea of it being to some sort of border control or anti-terrorism or federal police organisation did make me feel a bit uncomfortable in that these interrogations occur for often, quite minor reasons because of a person’s appearance and not everyone has this cute story to tell to get the people on side and that people have been detained for less.

The other big problem I had was what happens with Giovanni in Rome (one of the guys in the group that draws Amir in, seemingly the ‘leader’ or some sort of decision maker) and the way people treat Amir after it. He’s quite young, he’s a Muslim and it’s obvious he was until very recently, firmly not ‘out’ and is still not ‘out’ as such, to everyone he knows. Giovanni is older, infinitely more experienced and yet everyone seems to blame Amir for the fallout even though Amir is not the one in a relationship and was clearly the one experiencing a huge power imbalance there. He’s blindsided by these good looking guys, who are friendly and supportive and make him feel accepted and wanted and like it’s ok to just be who he is, for perhaps the first time in his life. He’s going to be pretty much powerless against any of them and the fact that none of them can see this in the ‘after’ is disappointing. It definitely made Giovanni seem predatory, but like why is everyone else not critical of him rather than Amir?

I did enjoy the perspective of Amir’s parents as they adjusted to his news and had it change what they’d had in mind for him as he moved into his life of an adult. It wasn’t as straightforward as them being of Muslim faith (even if not particularly devout) and rejecting him because of his sexuality but I’m not sure there’s enough of being Muslim in this one to give much of an idea of how such a teen might navigate this in a more religiously observant setting and several reviews I’ve read of this by Muslims suggest this as well, so I’d encourage anyone interested in this to seek out those reviews and read from someone’s point of view who is a Muslim.

6/10

Book #101 of 2021

Leave a comment »

Review: A Cuban Girl’s Guide To Tea And Tomorrow by Laura Taylor Namey

A Cuban Girl’s Guide To Tea And Tomorrow
Laura Taylor Namey
Atheneum Books For Young Readers
2020, 320p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: For Lila Reyes, a summer in England was never part of the plan. The plan was 1) take over her abuela’s role as head baker at their panadería, 2) move in with her best friend after graduation, and 3) live happily ever after with her boyfriend. But then the Trifecta happened, and everything—including Lila herself—fell apart.

Worried about Lila’s mental health, her parents make a new plan for her: Spend three months with family friends in Winchester, England, to relax and reset. But with the lack of sun, a grumpy inn cook, and a small town lacking Miami flavor (both in food and otherwise), what would be a dream trip for some feels more like a nightmare to Lila…until she meets Orion Maxwell.

A teashop clerk with troubles of his own, Orion is determined to help Lila out of her funk, and appoints himself as her personal tour guide. From Winchester’s drama-filled music scene to the sweeping English countryside, it isn’t long before Lila is not only charmed by Orion, but England itself. Soon a new future is beginning to form in Lila’s mind—one that would mean leaving everything she ever planned behind.

As soon as I came across this, I knew I had to read it! A book that has tea included? Absolutely. Plus I liked the sound of everything else about this.

Lila is an almost-18 year old Cuban-American girl who has had three really devastating things rock her life. She’s not coping with what has happened and her parents are so worried that they decide she needs to just get out of Miami for a while, go and spend some time with family in England. A change of perspective, some distance. They’re hoping it will help. To say Lila is reluctant is an understatement – she’s had plans and even though some terrible things have happened, she wants to dive straight into taking over the family business with her sister. She doesn’t want to be in England, it’s cold even though it’s also summer, it’s unfamiliar. But then she meets Orion and his group of friends, who are also friends with her cousin Gordon and finds a way to bake even in England. All of a sudden, England seems like it’s full of opportunities.

Lila is not the easiest of characters in the beginning – she’s grieving a lot but she’s also angry and resentful that she’s been sent away. She’s a very skilled baker, having been taught from a very early age by her grandmother – it was their ‘thing’. And that forms a core part of her personality, taking what her grandmother has taught her and continuing it. She’s very keen to take over the family business – she’ll supervise the baking and her sister, who is graduating from college, will look after the money side. When Lila arrives in England, she’s quite (internally) critical of everything about it and I get that summer in Miami and summer in Hampshire, England would be very different. But she’s also judgy about the baker in her aunt and uncle’s pub, where she’s staying. Look, I get that Lila and her grandmother are/were obviously very talented but seeing Lila criticise everything, especially scones of all things, in England was a bit off-putting.

But. I have to say, Lila does really go through some character growth here. She meets some people, gets drawn into their social circle and also gets to spend some time in the kitchen without ingredients that are familiar to her, so she starts experimenting and fusing cuisines together as she makes treats for the guests at the pub. She also really enjoys feeding Orion Maxwell (who supplies the tea for the inn from his family’s tea shop) and introducing him to Cuban flavours and dishes.

I loved Orion as a character and I really enjoyed the friendship he and Lila carved out. Orion has his own things going on and I thought they were explored really well. His family own a tea shop which Orion helps run and one of the things he decides is to introduce Lila to different teas so that they can find her ‘one’. Her favourite tea, the one she’ll turn to when she needs it, which, as an avid tea drinker who has at least 20 different types of tea in her cupboard at any given time, I absolutely loved. Lila shows her feelings through food and you can tell she really enjoys feeding Orion and his family, getting a chance to share her knowledge and passion for her Cuban cuisine but also adapting some of those recipes to also include English flavours and combinations. All the descriptions of the food were amazing and made me so hungry reading this. I also really enjoyed the group of people that befriended Lila and drew her into their circle. Lila only really mentioned an ex-boyfriend and a best friend (both also responsible for 2 of the 3 things that had devastated her so much) and this was a larger social circle that helped her adjust to a different country and find things to enjoy within that country. Lila I think, had lived a very sheltered life before this, only Miami and her family bakery and England brings about opportunity for Lila to realise that although she has learned Cuban dishes and pastries and treats very well, there is still so much she could learn and other places that could teach her.

There was one thing I did find a bit odd in this and should’ve been picked up in editing: Lila’s best friend ditches their plans to go to a “village in Africa” – and what does that mean? Africa isn’t a country. I have seen this before, where “Africa” is sometimes treated as a whole and it’s a lot of countries that can differ a lot in many different aspects including religion, languages, culture, etc. If the author didn’t want to pick a specific country for Lila’s friend to do her “humanitarian” gap-style year in, I don’t think just generalising the whole continent is the answer. It comes across very ignorant at best.

Apart from that however, I did enjoy this, especially I feel that the way Lila’s time in England helped give her distance and clarity from her family business and come to the realisation that there’s always more to learn and understand. And I really loved Orion. Lila’s grief was really well written and her struggles were often a bit dramatic but Lila is 17 and things that happen at that age, feel dramatic. Especially when they all come at once and overwhelm.

8/10

Book #99 of 2021

Leave a comment »